When Black Stone Cherry released a blues covers album last year it seemed that they were in reflective mood. “Family Tree” sees them likewise, its last track is the superb organ-soaked title cut and seems to encapsulate the mood: “The southern blood is thick as mud” sings Chris Robertson and in the chorus, he adds: “bury me beneath the family tree, you know I never really wanted to leave.”
More than most bands, you suspect, BSC are a family. The same line up throughout, essentially growing up on the family farm in Kentucky and steeped in the history of the Kentucky Headhunters (arguably the greatest exponents of Southern Rock there are by the way) and with the sort of gang, all for one for attitude that endears them to everyone.
It was only perhaps when they – only they would know if this was intentional – veered from this path and into some bland arena rock on occasion that they made a couple of miss steps, and whilst they’ve never released a bad album, 2016’s “Kentucky” was their best since that wonderful debut.
“…Tree” largely finds some middle way between the southern soil and the big city lights. “Bad Habit” has a groove, a swing, a funkiness if you will, that aims big and doesn’t miss. There is a sense of widening the sonic palette throughout many of the 13 songs (its their lucky number apparently) but “Burnin’” finds them in their classic, heads down rock n roll pose, and it sounds great.
“New Kinda Feeling” is perhaps the highlight here. Like some jam between ZZ Top and The Stones, it knows the history yet owes nobody anything, while “Carry Me On Down The Road” is a road song. A band that has built its reputation on stages all round the world, it’s first line is one of the itinerant troubadour: “well I was born to leave here, it’s just what I do….” Offers Robertson, and there are guitar licks that sound like The Allman Brothers here. Handy, then that Warren Hayes provides the real thing on “Dancing In The Rain” – the centrepiece of the collection in many ways.
BSC are always good for a couple of things. A tear-jerking ballad and a party song. “My Last Breath” will ensure no dry eyes in arenas throughout the world, while “Southern Fried Saturday Night” does exactly what you think it might do.
The slide drenched “Ain’t Nobody” shows they learnt plenty about the blues back in that rehearsal space as kids, while “James Brown” not only makes good on the soul front it’s title promises but is a fine bid for pop chart stardom too. “You Got The Blues” – featuring Chris’ five year old on backing vocals – reveals all its secrets in the line that says “let the good times roll” and if it is a little throwaway in common with one or two towards the end, it is still well done.
If “I Need A Woman” – another of the ones that could have been a b-sidem, if not for the 13 songs rule – make its intentions clear, then “Get Me Over You” recognises the problems of a life on the road, and it’s blues tinge is real, you imagine.
These things are perhaps a by-product of a life given to rock n roll. At this point in their careers, there is very little Black Stone Cherry haven’t done and seen. “Family Tree” takes all that experience, and all their own history to make something that will cement their future.