The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION

AFTERGLOW

2012

 

 

 

Black Country Communion’s second album was one of my albums of 2011; a big step up from their self titled debut that managed to fuse the best elements of their respective members past as well as charting new territory in the ‘classic hard rock’ genre.

 

 

 

In my rockpit review I said “ take the best parts Zeppelins Physical Graffiti, Purples Perfect Strangers and Sabbaths Mob Rules albums, throw it all together and you're close to what BCC2 sounds like. Or imagine Chickenfoot but with a pastoral, progressive rock influence....”

 

 

 

Needles to say I’ve been pining for the release of their third album since then. While a lot of fans (myself included) have been put off by the speculation surrounding the bands future, including the Twitter row between singer/bassist Glenn Hughes and guitarist Joe Bonamassa, I’m happy to report the band have delivered the goods yet again with “Afterglow”.

 

 

 

In contrast to the rumours and conflicts, “Afterglow” is the sound of a band that sounds alot more settled, confident and comfortable with it’s identity. The result is a far more dynamic, varied and (at times) downright funky collection of songs that leaves plenty of room for each member really flex their musical muscle. Hughes vocals are particularly soulful throughout, Bonamassa puts most specialist rock players to shame and Bonham’s playing and drum sound are stronger than ever.

 

 

 

The expanded role of keyboard maestro Derek Sherinian that really makes “Afterglow” for me though; while the keyboards seems to play a support role on the first two albums,  they’re much more in your face here and reminiscent of great ‘70’s bands like Purple, Uriah Heep, Kansas and at times even Genesis!

 

 

 

Well there’s an overview; so how does it stack up track by track?

 

 

 

Unlike the previous two albums, which open with breakneck riff rockers, “Afterglow” opener “Big Train” swaggers out of the blocks with a Zeppelinesque ostinato that abruptly drops into a funky Hammond Organ groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on Purple’s “Come Taste The band” album. Understated but not underwhelming, it’s a taste of things to come; from the somewhat raw and soulful vocals to the rhythm section groove. This is backed up by the Free meets Uriah Heep grind of “This Is Your Time”, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on the first BCC album.

 

 

 

“Midnight Sun” is the first song that really grabs me though; beginning with a staccato plucked guitar riff in the syle of the Young brothers, we’re treated to lush Hammond organ and synth overlaying a powerhouse rhythm section groove. I really like the mixture of driven bass guitar, layered keyboards and tight guitars here; sonically very gratifying and it’s especially effective once the big melodic chorus kicks in. Kudos to Kevin Shirley with the production on this one.

 

 

 

“Confessor” and “Cry Freedom” are solid mid tempo rock songs that chart a familiar path for fans of the second album; the latter featuring a duet between Hughes and Bonamassa that makes you wonder why two guys who work so well together musically would waste their time airing dirty laundry in public...

 

 

 

...and so we get to the title track. Beginning with a pastoral sounding acoustic guitar and electric piano intro, we’re lead through a hauntingly beautiful melody and set of lyrics by Hughes. It’s like hearing Stevie Wonder jam led Zeppelin III...I kid you not! Sherinian really shines here, his electric piano, hamming organ and mellotron tones conjuring the best of Jon Lord with the compositional finesse of John Paul Jones. Just as we’re being lead along a melodic ballad, we’re introduced to a 10,000 ton guitar riff that instantly brings a smile to my face and gets my head bopping. The mood changes several times throughout before we’re treated to a very Jeff Beck inspired solo from Bonamassa; definitely a highlightin a what’s already a very impressive fusion of pastoral prog rock and heavy riff rock. Worth the price of entry alone!

 

 

 

The laid back vibe continues with “Dandelion”, which is probably the weakest track on the album to my ears. Not that it’s a bad song, just that for a band like BCC it’s simple unremarkable. It does offer a nice segue between the funky riff rock of the rest of the album and the melancholy blues of “The Circle”. My favourite track on the album, the raw emotion and sincerity the band manages to channel is quite moving. The vocals in particular sound as though they were performed in one take and Hughes sounds like he’s pushed to the edge of his range, power and stamina. Quite possibly the finest vocal performance he’s laid down in his career. Quite remarkable!

 

 

 

“Common Man” comes across like another bread and butter rocker until you reach the crazy improvised jam at the end; listening to this brings to mind the sound I was expecting when I heard the first album. 4 super talented players absolutely going off! Again, it’s great to hear Sherinian and Bonamassa stretch out their sonic palette and play outside of the box.

 

 

 

“Afterglow” is rounded out by two more mid tempo rockers; “The Giver”, which contrasts sparkling keyboards and acoustic guitars against a swaggering chorus and solo sections, and the dark and brooding “Crawl”. The latter brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s Presence album; the use of droning keyboard parts against a backdrop of mutated dirty blues riffs that build in intensity, before launching into a chorus that brings to mind the sights and sounds of the orient. If Richie Blackmore and Jimmy Page could be fused into a single human being they’d write riffs like this. I particularly dig the “Gates of Babylon” style keyboard solo in the breakdown. An interesting way to bring what was overall a lyrically reflective and musically funky album to a close.

 

 

 

Overall, “Afterglow” is probably the most consistent BCC album to date. While it lacks some of the raw power of the first two releases, it compensates with a more diverse set of instrumentation and sounds, while still sounding like a cohesive body of work. It’s quite amazing how, in less than 3 years, the band has matured in a way that took their influence nearly a decade to achieve. While it’s still very much a Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple sound on steroids, it is a lot more than just a supergroup getting together and pumping out generic retro rock. Still, there’s a sense of leaving the end open as it doesn’t sound like a definitive ‘goodbye’ album; here’s hoping the band can settle their differences and that this isn’t the last record they do!

 

 

 

Highlights: Midnight Sun, Afterglow, The Circle, Common Man


Buy if you like; Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Free, Uriah Heep

 

 

by Leon Todd of Ragdoll (www.ragdollrock.com)