Black Stone Cherry – ‘Back To Blues’ EP Review

It’s just over a year since Black Stone Cherry released the acclaimed (and rightly so) ‘Kentucky’, an album that not only charted all around the world, but which also saw the band take their live show to pretty much everywhere with electricity. Although the press release expresses surprise that the band found time to record a new, six-track EP of blues covers, I’d argue that that the EP is the perfect response to the pressures of life on the road. It sees the band reconnect with the music that made them who they are in the first place and it seems like a grounding exercise for a band who have never lost touch with their roots, no matter how much acclaim they have accrued along their own path.

Although this is an exercise in touching their roots, there was never a question that Black Stone Cherry would head too far from their own gnarled take on blues rock. On the first track, Howling Wolf is dragged kicking and screaming into hard rock territory with the band’s stinging take on ‘built for comfort’ delivering unexpected fire and fury. The band stay true to the vibe and integrity of the song, but with John Fred Young laying down a thunderous backdrop and guitarists Chris Robertson and Ben Wells giving it all they’ve got, the track is given a vibrant overhaul that sends the adrenalin coursing through the veins. Next to get the BSC treatment is Muddy Waters’ evergreen  ‘champagne and reefer’, a song that Buddy Guy has done much to make his own over the years. With an electric solo and with the band experienced enough in bacchanalian pleasures to give the track the ring of authenticity, it’s a sparkling take on a well-worn song. Freddie King, whose work recently featured prominently in Joe Bonamassa’s Three Kings tour, appears next with the band riding roughshod through the ‘palace of the king’, the gruelling riffs rendered beneath a layer of speaker-destroying distortion of which Freddie would surely have approved.

A song which surely needs no introduction, ‘hoochie coochie man’ is one of those tracks that laid the very foundation of the blues and it has been covered by pretty much every blues artist worth their salt since it was first laid down by Muddy Waters (circa Willie Dixon, who wrote it) in 1954. Here, BSC throw horns into the mix and give it a bruising work over that make it sound as down ‘n’ dirty as it ever has. Similarly, Albert King’s funky ‘born under a bad sign’ has a swagger to it that is only given greater depth by the addition of the (admittedly low in the mix) horn section. The EP concludes with Willie Dixon’s ‘I want to be loved’, a short, tongue-in-cheek cover that comes as close to trad-blues as the EP gets, the band giving it plenty of swing and dialling back the hefty riffs, allowing the keyboards to come more to the fore than elsewhere. It rounds out the EP on a high and will leave fans with a wide smile on their faces.

Black Stone Cherry have been going from strength to strength in recent years with the last two albums in particular, 2014’s ‘Magic Mountain’ and 2016’s ‘Kentucky’ proving to be highlights, but this EP is a perfect exercise in paying tribute to the band’s roots, drawing out the vibe of the songs whilst making them over in familiar, Black Stone Cherry style. By not allowing themselves to stand too much in thrall to the original material, BSC give the tracks a fresh lick of paint whilst remaining respectful and that is, in all honesty, all you could possibly ask of a covers EP. Not essential listening, perhaps, but a damn good tribute to BSC’s roots and a hell of a lot of fun to boot. 8

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