The wait for Black Stone Cherry’s new album Family Tree is now at only one day. The much-anticipated 13-song album will be the band’s second full-length studio recording for Mascot Records and its third overall recording for the label. The second of the band’s recordings came last year in the form of the six-song blues covers EP Black To Blues. It is the focus of today’s review, as anticipation builds for Family Tree. Those who are familiar with Black Stone Cherry’s body of work know that this veteran Kentucky-based rock band’s music is very deeply rooted in the blues. So it comes as no surprise that the band released this collection. The only real surprise is that it is only a six-song record instead of a full-length EP. The record’s song choices (and their associated artists) are, collectively speaking, one of its key high points. They will be discussed shortly. The songs’ arrangements are important to the EP’s whole, too. The historical significance of the EP rounds out its most important elements. Each element is important in its own right to the EP’s presentation. All things considered, they make Black To Blues another welcome offering from Black Stone Cherry, and one that will hopefully one day be followed by a more pure blues cover from the band
Black Stone Cherry’s 2017 EP Black To Blues is an interesting new compilation of songs from the veteran Kentucky-based blues rock band. That is not because it is a collection of blues covers, but in part because of the songs selected for the 6-song EP. The songs are classics crafted by some of the greatest names in blues history – Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Albert King, and the creative team of Don Nix, Donald Dunn and Leon Russell.
‘Built For Comfort,’ originally composed by blues legend Willie Dixon, is considered by critics and audiences alike to be one of Dixon’s best compositions. Along with Muddy Waters (a.k.a. McKinley Morganfield), Dixon is one of two of the key figures in the formation of the Chicago blues.
Speaking of Muddy Waters, his song ‘Champagne and Reefer’ fittingly follows Dixon’s Built For Comfort.’ What many might not know of Waters’ works is that a large number were in fact written and composed by Dixon. This song however, was a rarity because it was written and composed entirely by Waters. Just as interesting to note of the original is it was included in what would go on to become Waters’ final album before his death in 1983, King Bee. Considering this, it’s fitting that such a strong composition would be included in Waters’ final musical statement.
‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’ another of the compilation’s key entries, is its own well-known work. Inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame in 1983, the song has since gone on to be considered by most to be King’s signature composition. No doubt that is thanks in part to William Bell’s lyrics, which have proven to have just as much widespread appeal as its musical arrangement which has reached rock and r&b fans just as much as blues fans. It’s just one more example of why the songs included in this recording are so critical to the EP’s overall presentation. ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and ‘I Want To Be Loved,’ two more of Dixon’s hits prove to be just as entertaining here as the songs more directly noted. Much the same can be said of ‘Palace of the King,’ originally composed by the writing team of Don Nix, Donald Dunn and Leon Russell. That song was made famous by Freddie King, who is considered one of the “Three Kings” of the Blues. When those songs are considered and researched along with the songs more fully discussed here, it becomes clear why the songs featured in this record are so critical to its presentation. As important as they are, they are not, collectively speaking, the EP’s only key element. The songs’ arrangements are just as important to discuss as the songs and their artists.
It goes without saying here that the band has given these blues standards quite the new identity with its arrangements. Case in point is the hard rock/blues arrangement of Willie Dixon’s ‘Built For Comfort.’ Dixon’s original composition is an upbeat, easily danceable work. BSC’s rendition is, by comparison far more familiar to its fans, stylistically than it might be to fans of Dixon’s original. That’s not to say that BSC’s take is a bad take. It just gives the song a new identity for a new generation; an identity that is still just as appealing in its own right as Dixon’s original. Much the same can be said of BSC’s take on Muddy Waters’ ‘Champagne and Reefer.’ The band’s take of this blues standard is a complete re-imagining of Waters’ original, yet proves in its heavy, blues-soaked rock sound, to still be entertaining in its own right. The band’s re-working of ‘Palace of the King’ changes things up here by actually largely staying true to its source material while still giving the song a solid update. ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ proves to be one of the record’s most standout additions thanks to the band sticking to the original song’s 12-bar blues format. One could even go so far as to argue that this take is even better than the original thanks to the hard rock element added to that link back to Willie Dixon’s original. That standout offering is followed by another equally solid arrangement in the band’s take of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’ which stays perhaps closest to its source material of any of this record’s songs. To say that it’s infectious would be an understatement with its blues rock arrangement; an arrangement which even way back when was credited with making the Albert King’s original such a widespread hit. The band impresses one more time in the EP’s closer with its take of Wilie Dixon’s ‘I Want To Be Loved,’ which was originally made famous by his longtime friend Muddy Waters. It is a little amped up in comparison to that original, but again, it largely stays true to the source material, right down to the horns. The result of that devotion to the original is a work that is not only a solid closer for this record, but another song sure to be a hit among audiences of all ages. It should be clear by now why the arrangements of the songs in this record are so pivotal to its presentation. Some stay true to their source material while others completely re-imagine the songs. Even in those re-imaginings, the songs still prove to be solid blues rock pieces that stay true to BSC’s own blues rock style. Keeping that in mind, all of the arrangements presented here prove enjoyable in one way or another throughout, thus making the record in whole that much more enjoyable. Of course this still is not the last of the EP’s most important elements. Its historical value is also of note.
Black to Blues’ historical value is so important to discuss in examining this EP because of the doors that the EP can open through its songs and their arrangements. One could easily argue that there’s no importance to this record, but the reality is that without this record, younger audiences who might otherwise pay no attention at all to the history and importance of blues itself, get a good start. That door is opened through discussions on the songs featured here, their source material and their artists. Being that this record is only a six-song record, it greatly limits the artists and songs, but maybe in generating new interest through those songs, those same younger listeners will hopefully be moved to discover even more of the many artists and songs that make the blues’ history so rich. Keeping this in mind, the historical value of Black To Blues cannot be ignored in considering the EP’s overall presentation. It is just as critical as the EPs songs (and artists) and the songs’ arrangements. That being the case, the whole of the noted elements makes Black To Blues another solid effort from Black Stone Cherry; a recording that leaves listeners hoping one day the band will release a pure blues covers record instead of a collection of amped up covers. Until or unless that happens, the works presented here will have to suffice. That’s not an entirely bad thing, either. Black to Blues is available now in stores and online. More information on the EP is available online now along with all of Black Stone Cherry’s latest news and more at:
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