When Chickenfoot appeared just over a year ago followed swiftly by the distressingly cool Them Crooked vultures you could be forgiven for thinking that it is an opportune time for ‘supergroups’, but even by the previous two lofty standards Black Country Communion are something special. Featuring Jason Bonham (who recently performed the near-impossible feat of impressing Led Zeppelin’s discerning fan club at that band’s reunion), Glenn, the voice of rock, Hughes whose resume is like an A-Z of rock, Derek Sherinian (previously of the justifiably lauded Dream Theater) and Joe Bonamassa, a worryingly talented individual who has played with some of the biggest names in rock and blues over an illustrious career that started when he was a young child. However, while the members comprise a mighty legacy, such a legacy also comes at the price of expectation and if ever a band had the weight of expectation on their shoulders it is Black Country Communion which is why it’s all the more impressive that they chose to shoulder aside any notions of superiority and have created what is simply a damn fine hard rock album.
Opening with the pounding bass and over-the-top drumming of ‘Black Country’, it’s instantly clear that the Led Zeppelin influences have seeped through with Glenn Hughes howling ‘I am a messenger, Listen to my prophecy…’ as if his life depends on it. Joe’s guitar, meanwhile, is gloriously understated and like Joe Satriani’s glorious performance with Chickenfoot, he’s proved himself an excellent team player, showcasing his skills without ever detracting from the other fine musicians around him. To hear such life, such vitality coupled to such an unashamedly classic rock tune in this time of pre-packaged, lowest-common-denominator music is utterly refreshing and there’s no doubt that BCC are a band who have balanced power and precision to create something truly special. Such a feeling is reaffirmed when Jason’s thunderous drums introduces the slow, swamp blues of ‘one last soul’ which features a glorious, shimmering chorus that rises out of the verse to sweep away any lingering doubts that BCC are about reliving past glories only. ‘The great divide’ is a slower number, where Derek’s keyboards are given a chance to shine more brightly, while Glenn takes the opportunity to exercise his more soulful tones on a song that sounds bizarrely like irritating lightweights Maroon five being given a good seeing to in the car park by a bunch of veteran rock fans. As if sensing that the lighter tracks should only be used sparingly to add light and shade to the overall thrust of the album, the band return to rockier pastures with the Black Sabbath / AC/DC hybrid track ‘down again’ which has a gloriously churning lead riff and a leather-throated lead vocal from Hughes. It’s a personal favourite and a great track that’s as hard rocking as it is soulful.
On the track ‘beggarman’ Joe gets a chance to show off his skills with a Hendrix-esque opening lead that then takes off at speed when the rest of the band hammer in. On the flip side, the introspective and beautiful ballad ‘song of yesterday’ sees BCC come on like Bad Company at their finest while all manner of orchestration is thrown into the mix for good measure. Jason’s thunderous drums re-introduce the rock on the snarling ‘no time’ which has a dark guitar edge and a memorable chorus. ‘Medusa’ is up next and it’s a slow burning track that shifts from shimmering guitar and gentle cymbals to hard-rock behemoth at the flick of a switch, while Hughes ranges from vulnerable loner to diamond encrusted rock monster without missing a beat. Listening to the band pour out steel-encased riff after riff it occurs to you, just briefly, that this is what Audioslave should have sounded like if only they’d put in the effort and you’re struck with wonder that Hughes can still sound this good while his band have somehow gelled perfectly despite the monster talents and potential for ego clashes within the ranks. ‘The revolution in me’ returns to Hendrix territory with Hughes echoing the ever-green ‘Voodoo chile’ with his opening couplet: “I’ve seen the tallest mountains; I’ve drunk your finest wine’ over a distressingly heavy, sludgy guitar riff. ‘Stand (at the burning tree)’ is another bruising rock track that hints at where Jack White wanted to go with the riff for his James Bond theme tune ‘another way to die’ if only he hadn’t been saddled with Alicia Keys. ‘Sista Jane’ is a more laid back affair that recalls Aerosmith at their glorious peak before they discovered there was more money to be made in power ballads. The closing psychedelic riff fest of ‘too late for the sun’ closes this amazing album in epic style with each musician getting the chance to shine, particularly Derek Sherinian who turns in a keyboard performance that sits somewhere between the Doors and early Pink Floyd (think Richard Wright on ‘Arnold Layne’) while the band hammer out bludgeoning blues riffs behind him.
As with Chickenfoot the pleasure in this record is the sense of joy that floods out of the speakers as these masters of their respective fields come together to produce the music they love. Despite the level of expectation, Black Country Communion more than live up to their part of the bargain offering up a disc that ranges from blues to hard rock to pyschedelia without ever sounding disparate or nostalgic. Instead what you have is an album that pays perfect homage to the past while still firmly eying up the future. This is timeless, joyful, passionate rock music that stands as a testament to these fine musicians and stands up remarkably well even by the standards of their astonishing combined back catalogue. A wonderful album that will delight fans young and old and should be a source of considerable pride to its creators.