The wait is officially over. Black Stone Cherry’s new album, Family Tree is finally here, and it is another interesting offering from the Edmonton, Kentucky-based band, both musically and lyrically. That is because on this, the band’s sixth full-length studio recording, the veteran Edmonton, KY-based band has returned to the blues rock sound that made it a household name throughout the better part of its life. That should make those left uncomfortable by the band’s fifth album Kentucky (its Mascot Records debut) happy. Of course that is not to discount Kentucky, as it was its own impressive effort especially being a risk by the band. As a matter of fact, it was a nice change of pace from the band, and hopefully not the only chance that the band will ever take. Getting back on the topic at hand, this album, even with its familiar musical and lyrical themes, takes its own risks that pay off in their own right. ‘Carry Me On Down The Road’ is one of those risks. It will be discussed shortly. ‘My Last Breath,’ another chance taken by the band this time out that pays off in its own right. It will be discussed later. It’s not the last of the risks taken this time out. ‘James Brown,’ which comes later in the album’s run, is another risk that pays off. Between these songs and the album’s other more familiar works, the album in whole proves to have plenty for audiences to appreciate. Keeping that in mind, Family Tree proves to be another solid, enjoyable effort from Black Stone Cherry.
Black Stone Cherry’s sixth full-length studio recording (its second album and third overall recording for Mascot Records) is another solid, enjoyable offering for the veteran southern rock outfit. That is because for all of the familiarity that the album offers audiences, it also doesn’t fail to take its own risks once again, as is evidenced early on in ‘Carry Me On Down The Road.’ This song, lyrically, is its own familiar territory for audiences across the board. It’s one of those songs about a rambler; someone who spends so much of his/her life on the road. The thing with those songs is that they are so often overly sappy pieces thanks to their musical arrangements. Black Stone Cherry didn’t go that route here. Instead, the band opted for a more positive, light-hearted approach a la The Allman Brothers Band’s ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ only a little heavier. That positive musical approach makes the song’s lyrical theme, which is itself quite similar to that song and so many others, that much more enjoyable. That familiarity comes as front man Chris Robertson sings, “I was born for leaving/It’s just what I do/And my feet don’t sleep/’Cause they stay on the move/There’s no deceivin’/Ain’t no master plan/I’m a keep, keep keeping on/I’m a travelin’ man/Hold on/I got wheels that can’t be stopped/I gotta ramble, ramble on/Roll on/Peaceful feelin’ in my soul/Carry me on down that road.” He goes on to sing in the song’s second verse, “Said listen people/I’ve got something to say/I’ve been around the world/It took 42 days/And I met 10,000/And I ran 10,000 miles/To be with ya’ll this evening…oh lord/I got wheels that can’t be stopped/I gotta ramble, ramble on/Oh lord, peaceful feelin’ in my soul/Carry me on down that road.” Again, there is a lot of similarity here both lyrically and musically between this song and the noted Allman Brothers Band song. The fact that this song uses the prior work as inspiration rather than blatantly ripping it off makes it plenty enjoyable. That it opts for that more light-hearted approach instead of the sappier approach that it easily could have taken adds even more to its enjoyment. Keeping all of this in mind, this upbeat blues rock opus about a traveling man, a ramblin’ man, proves to be its own enjoyable entry this time out. It’s a risk because the band opted to go happy instead of sappy, and one that paid off because of that. It’s just one of the risks that paid off in this album. ‘My Last Breath’ is another risk that paid off for the band this time out.
‘My Last Breath’ comes immediately after ‘Carry Me On Down The Road’ in the album’s sequence. Musically speaking, its arrangement is another ballad, which in itself is nothing new for Black Stone Cherry. The band has included at least one ballad in each of its past five records. What makes it stand out here is that, as with ‘Carry Me On Down The Road,’ is that while it does boast a certain emotional depth (thanks to its musical arrangement), that depth isn’t as over the top as in the band’s previous ballads. It’s another nice change of pace even with its familiarity. This song’s arrangement is centered on a gentle, flowing organ line that when coupled with Robertson’s vocal delivery conjures thoughts of Ben Harper (believe it or not). That influence sticks throughout the course of the song. The addition of the choral element to the song gives it a little gospel feel that only strengthens the song that much more. Between those elements and the slight bluesy Derek Trucks Band influence that is also audible here, the song’s musical arrangement here makes this ballad a risk from the band that paid off in its own right. Considering that the song pays homage to the subject’s loved ones – from a wife/gf to family in general — that controlled emotion here makes the risk taken all the more of a payoff. It’s just one more of the risks that paid off here. The funky blues rock arrangement of ‘James Brown’ is another risk that paid off.
The arrangement at the center of ‘James Brown’ is, as noted, a rock arrangement, but also boasts a certain funk influence in its whole, too. It goes without saying that it’s instantly infectious, and in this critic’s ears, deserves to be one of this album’s singles. Its lyrical content rests atop that musical content, proving even more the song’s strength. Robertson sings in the song’s lead verse, “Good time to write a rhyme to reach ya/It’s a new procedure/Need a soul to preach to/give me a soul to preach to/Don’t want but you know I need it/’Cause I only feed instead of tryin’ to beat it/I end up defeated/Well lemme talk at ya/Hot damn, you know just like magic/So hip that it’s tragic/Heartbreaker/Got me a-ramblin’/Like I’ve been time travelin’/You got me just like James Brown.” From here, he goes on to note that the woman being addressed here is “the 8th wonder” and he’s “the hunter”, basically excited over this woman. It’s an interesting song that is heightened even more through that playful, funky arrangement. When the two elements are joined together, they make this composition a work that was well worth the risk as they definitely stand out as another sign of the band’s growth. Keeping that in mind, it’s just one more way in which Family Tree shows its strength and appeal, but hardly the last. ‘Southern Fried Saturday Night’ stands easily on its own merits with its southern rock arrangement and fun-filled lyrical content paying homage to all things southern. In all honesty, this song is just as much a fit on mainstream rock radio as on today’s modern country playlists. On another level, the Joe Satriani-esque break included in the arrangement in ‘Bad Habit’ adds to its interest, as it’s another interesting change of pace that shows even more the band’s growth. There’s even a real quick Peter Gunn style riff included about two-minutes into ‘Burnin’ along with a subtle 80s hair rock style riff that adds to its interest. These elements, and so many more throughout the record go a long way, collectively, toward showing why Family Tree is another successful entry from Black Stone Cherry. All things considered, they make Family Tree a record that will impress the band’s long-time fans just as much as its new audiences and deserves a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new rock records.
It goes without saying after hearing Family Tree all the way through that it deserves a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new rock records. That is proven in the southern rock roots and new growth exhibited throughout the record’s 13-song, 52-minute run time. That growth is exhibited just as much through ‘Carry Me On Down The Road,’ ‘My Last Breath’ and ‘James Brown’ as through ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘Burnin.’’ The band’s southern rock roots are clearly exhibited throughout the rest of the record. The combination of that growth and connection to the past proves Family Tree to be another successful entry from start to finish, and in turn a record that will appeal to audiences across the board. Family Tree is available now in stores and online. More information on Family Tree is available online now along with all of Black Stone Cherry’s latest news at:
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