Black CountryCommunion – Self Titled – CD Review

Review by Damian McDonald

You hear about some all-star talent projects in the rock world and often think it’s too good to be true. And often it is. Think of David Coverdale and Jimmy Page’s 1993 collaboration (yawn), or much more recently the Zeppelin, Nirvana/Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age pedigreed Them Crooked Vultures (such fucking potential; what happened boys?). But sometimes, even with the egos, baggage and endorsements there is a natural and obvious chemistry with these big power bands. Last year we had the incredulously named but brilliant Chickenfoot featuring the curly-haired singer from Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony (who I never thought would leave Van Halen), Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, and of course Mr Satriani. This year we have BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION.

Personally, I think if a project has Glenn Hughes in it – who is best known for his work with Deep Purple and Sabbath in the 70s and 80s, but has been prolific ever since then – it’s going to be great. But, of course, there are degrees of greatness. I’m not really hanging out to hear Mr Hughes do the follow up to the Hughes/Thrall project. And even his 2006 solo album Music for the Devine was awash with too many ballads to be way up there on a rock fan’s absolute favourites list. But BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION’s self titled debut should be.

Hughes takes responsibility for the largest part of the vocal duties, and all the bass playing. It’s all A grade. If you like Hughes’s voice, BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION shows it at its best in three decades. Yep, that good.

So, there’s the bass and vocals taken care of; now for the very well taken care of guitar work. Joe Bonamassa. Some rock and metal fans may not be familiar with him. Now’s the time to do just that. Bonamassa has cut his chops as a blues musician, but hard rock flows from him deliciously and effortlessly. As he recently said on his Facebook page: ‘For years the blues police have said I should go join a rock band. Well this week they got their wish. It’s called Black Country Communion’. Not sure who the blues police are, but I’m hell glad they got their wish. Bonamassa’s playing, and his vocals on several of the tracks, are on par with Hughes. And don’t expect every riff and solo to sound like Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Bonamassa has listened to his metal records and studied the best of them. Testament to this is the opening track ‘Black Country’. The double time bass riff and then proto-thrash guitar riff that comes in over the top of it is so thoroughly reminiscent of the first Iron Maiden album, it has you double-checking the CD cover. Seriously!

Drums. None other than the prodigy, Jason Bonham. What I like about Bonham, particularly on this album, is that he’s truly established himself as a drummer with his own feel and sound. Hard to do when your dad is the most revered drummer in rock. Bonham is kick arse on BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION. Both the chops and the drum production.

The fourth member of this project is keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Sherinian has played with Malmsteen, Billy Idol, Alice Cooper, and Dream Theatre. Called ‘The Caligula’ of keyboards, Sherinian on BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION is understated, but right there when he’s needed. He knows where to leave room, and where to fill the fuck out of it.

Actually, there is a fifth member. Kevin Shirley, the producer. Shirley has produced Aerosmith, Dream Theatre and The Black Crows, to name just a few, and is actually one of the reasons BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION came together – he is a personal friend of all members. The job he’s done on the band’s debut is big, out front, natural, balanced (nice, nice bottom end!), and most importantly, unmistakably hard rock. without any clichés.

Picking standout tracks is near impossible. If there were any duds in the pre-production, they were dropped or worked into brilliance. Like all Hughes albums, the kick arse, ‘live’ songs are at the front. Track two, and the first single from the album is also the most accessible. One Last Soul is no ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ though. The thumping rhythm section moves at its own pace, and leaves room for Bonham to fill in some great off-beats. The chorus kicks in with a chunky bottom end from Hughes’s rig, and vocals that make you shake your head in disbelief. In the good way!

Other tracks that should be mentioned are Down Again, Beggarman (wait until you hear the riff!), and the Bonamassa sung Song of Yesterday.

The best hard rock album of 2010. They better come to Australia.