The story of Black Country Communion, one of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands, very nearly came to an ignominious end when tensions over touring commitments caused the band to fracture. They had burned brightly, releasing three albums and a double live set all in the space of just three short years. That one of those albums (‘II’) happened to be an earth-shattering masterpiece only added to the sense of unfinished business when band publicly, and apparently definitively, called it a day.
Inevitably, the announcement that Joe Bonamassa had reached out to Glen Hughes led to a veritable tsunami of speculation, all of which the band calmly ignored, as they set about recording ‘IV’, a return to the fray that exceeds all expectations and emerges as one of 2017’s very best releases.
From the moment the band roar into action with the blistering Led Zeppelin swagger of ‘Collide’, it’s clear that a little time and distance is all that the members of BCC really needed. Jason Bonham pounds the skins in a manner that harks back to his father’s finest moment on ‘when the Levee breaks’, the monstrous thud of the kick drum matched every step of the way by Joe’s heroic riffing. Glenn’s fond of saying that Joe’s incapable of working on a small scale and, listening to the roar of his guitar, it’s easy to see why. It’s a huge metallic blues that Joe deals in here, and it provides the perfect backdrop for Glenn Hughes’ unstoppable vocals. Glenn, of course, has been on the form of his life in recent years, not least with ‘resonate’, and his experiences have fed into a performance that is perfectly pitched between soul and hard rock. At a mere four minutes, ‘collide’ sets the scene, only the pulsing ‘over my head’ to emerge with Glenn Hughes employing a falsetto that sticks in the brain for days. A heavy, funk-infused workout that recalls the Dan Reed project, ‘over my head’ is just brilliant; the sort of heavy pop song that seems to have disappeared from the radio forever, it sounds wonderfully inspired. Joe takes the lead for the epic ‘the last song for my resting place’, a track that adds sweeping strings and a sense of atmosphere that harks back to Led Zeppelin’s mystical ‘III’, it highlights the chemistry between these four musicians and, whilst they may not need each other in order to be successful, there’s no questioning the sparks that fly when they are. An album highlight, ‘sway’ takes the best elements of Led Zeppelin and The Who and throws them into a blender with a strong dose of Deep Purple. Joe solos like a man possessed, his fingers flashing over the fretboard and, at the heart of the track, Derek’s keys add rich swells that bring a warmth that equates to pure rock heaven. With a hypnotic beat and a gently psychedelic edge in Joe’s reverb-washed guitar, ‘the cave’ brings the first half of the album to a close with a nod to Gary Moore and a performance from Glenn that slowly builds to a fiery crescendo as the band build a solid wall of sound behind him. An epic, mesmerising workout, it captures the essence of Black Country Communion in just seven short minutes and it is liable to be huge when the band come to tour the album early next year.
A brutal bass line from Glenn kicks off the surging rock ‘n’ roll of ‘the crow’, a track that tips the nod towards the band’s first album, and one that would make a fine single. A sense of drama pervades the track, as if the band were writing the theme to a James Bond film not yet made, and the chorus is as crushing as they come. Placing Derek’s keys at the heart of ‘Wanderlust’ helps to drive the song which, in turn, allows Joe to explore atmospheric leads. It gives the song a widescreen feel that offers a counterpoint to the taut riffing of ‘the crow’. That thunderous Led Zeppelin vibe returns with the staccato riffing of ‘love remains’ but it is the looser-limbed ‘awake’ that really captures that live-in-the-studio feel that typified the great rock albums of the seventies. The album comes to a close with ‘when the morning comes’, a track that unexpectedly turns its head towards the Beatles-infused rock of Soundgarden circa ‘Superunknown’, Glenn’s voice poignantly evoking memories of that band’s fallen frontman. It’s a stunning finale and it brings what is quite possibly the band’s finest work to date to a powerful close.
Quite what the future holds for Black Country Communion is anybody’s guess, but we should be grateful indeed that the band were able to put aside their differences and return to the fold with an album as powerful and as graceful as ‘IV’. At just over an hour in length, the album feels considerably shorter, and the sense of interplay between the four members is mesmerising. There’s a richness and variety here that was at least partially lacking from ‘Afterglow’, a fine album, but clearly one recorded at the start of the tensions that would consume the band, and the result is an album that taps into the same vital vein of creativity that fuelled ‘II’. Anticipation can kill a release if it fails to live up to its billing, but in this case ‘IV’ exceeds the hype and it is a most welcome return. 9