Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Black Country Communion - BCCIV

“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” said Mark Anthony, according to ol’ Bill Shakespeare.  Well, I’m not here to bury Black Country Communion, but I do question the torrent of rave reviews BCCIV has been getting.
Cards on the table, I’m in that weird minority who may have some doubts about Joe Bonamassa, but still think he does some good stuff. More to the point, I’ve been resistant to the charms of Glenn Hughes and his much vaunted voice since way back when, and last year’s Resonate album did absolutely nothing to change my mind.
Hughes’ vocals represent one of my key reservations about the album. He has a good voice when he’s in his middle register and not pushing the envelope, but for an avowed fan of Stevie Wonder he can indulge in some godawful warbling when he lets rip.  ‘The Crow’ is a case in point, with Hughes going out to lunch over a wall of sound centred on a stuttering riff, detracting from a good bass showcase that leads into a swelling organ solo and a brief but high voltage offering from Bonamassa.  All in all it could add up to something impressive – if only Glenn Hughes would cool his damn jets.  And by the same token his diction is increasingly bad on ‘The Cove’, swallowing words in all too typical fashion, though the music, along with those phrases that do emerge – “alone in the silence”, “out on the ledge”, “in the darkness” etc – are enough to evoke a dramatic atmosphere.
Glenn Hughes opens his gob.  Joe Bonamassa closes his.
Photo by Christie Goodwin
The tendency for good quality material to be compromised by a kitchen sink approach is the other key issue.  Opener ‘Collide’ is a harbinger of things to come, with a lurching Zep-like riff and powder keg drums from Jason Bonham, while Hughes delivers a typically high-pitched vocal over rolling guitar lines from Bonamassa.  On the whole though, the bombast is just held in check.  The following ‘Over My Head’ shows more restraint, and is all the better for it.  Hughes is calmer vocally, mostly, and adds a nice falsetto touch to the chorus.  Bonham’s bass drum still pounds like a sledgehammer, but it’s rhythmically more interesting, and there’s a nice melodic guitar line in the middle.  But if ‘Sway’ has some subtle keyboard flourishes, and Hughes largely conquers his OTT tendencies, it also labours under a juddering riff and crash-bang-wallop drums that feel like driving over a cattle grid with no suspension.  ‘Awake’ makes a better fist of a twitching guitar lick and drum pattern, with a steady vocal melody on the verse, until they get into overdone overdrive on the chorus.
‘Wanderlust’ is a more positive showing, suggestive of late period Rainbow, with good guitar riffs and interplay with the keys during JB’s solo, while Hughes listens to his better angels.  A bit less Sturm und Drang in the drum sound would be welcome though. And the closing ‘When The Morning Comes’ is also nicely downbeat, with rippling guitar lines, more restrained drums, and injections of piano, while the bridge features bursts of organ over taut guitar chords.  At nearly 8 minutes it’s overlong, with an unnecessary “big finish”, but at least there’s some nuance along the way.
For me though, the best thing here is ‘The Last Song For My Resting Place’.  Tellingly, it features patient vocals from Joe Bonamassa.  At nearly 8 minutes, it’s top quality throughout, featuring a mandolin intro and fiddle breaks, and it has an epic quality making good use of quiet and loud passages. Recalling songs like ‘Last Matador Of Bayonne’ and ‘Black Lung Heartache’, it’s the sort of thing Bonamassa does really well, with or without the bone-crunching power chords augmenting his tasteful solo.

Too often though, BCCIV is like being on the wrong end of an artillery barrage in support of an assault by the Screaming Eagles, and producer Kevin Shirley has to take some responsibility for failing to tame the sonic excess. Great heavy rock isn’t solely about being loud, and too often the imagination evident on BCCIV is overpowered.  It's an okay album, but to these ears it sure as hell isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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