Black Stone Cherry Embrace Their Blues With ‘Family Tree’ – Album Review
Over the past five albums, Black Stone Cherry have built a solid base as a hard rocking band, with bits of the country and southern rock influences that likely seeped in during their Kentucky upbringing. But with Chris Robertson's powerfully soulful voice, it had to be only a matter of time before their blues rock side fully came to the forefront. There have been hints in the past, but never has the band so completely embraced the blues rock approach for a full release.
Technically, last year's Black to Blues EP laid the groundwork for where we're at now on the Family Tree disc. In our recent chat with Robertson, he stated, "That EP kinda gave us a free feeling. It kinda took us back and rejuvenated us into that style of recording and producing records where nothing is completely overdone." The EP really sparked the new music, with the band reinventing their aggressive approach and finding inspiration and full belief in what they were laying down. And it shows. Family Tree is a lean, mean blues machine of an album, with Robertson's voice getting a true showcase, Ben Wells getting a chance to lay down some wicked licks and the rhythm section of Jon Lawhon and John Fred Young delivering seriously swaggering swing and funk when called for.
From the opening licks of "Bad Habit" to the closing notes of "Family Tree," you can feel the energy pulsing through this disc. "Bad Habit" may be one of the best tracks exemplifying their fully fleshed out swagger. Robertson's lament about a female temptress lets his juke joint-ready voice soar, while the guitar breakdown adds a great touch to the single. "Burnin'" was the first taste of music most fans heard from the record, with a little swampy ZZ Top vibe to the driving rocker.
There are other standouts as well, like the extra pep in the step of "New Kinda Feelin," which is bolstered noticeably by a piano backing. The talk box-infused glory of "Southern Fried Friday Night" is a weekend anthem waiting to happen. And there's something wrong if you're head is not bobbing along with some attitude upon hearing the muscular guitar play on "You Got the Blues."
We'd also be remiss for not mentioning two other key tracks. "Dancin' in the Rain" is arguably one of the funkiest tracks on the album, getting an assist from Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes. And perhaps the most personal and moving song on the album is "My Last Breath," Robertson's soul baring confession to his wife and child. Starting off as a keyboard-based ballad, the song picks up steam and becomes a chugging rocker complete with a backing choir as the vocalist ponders what his final words should be.
The Family Tree title for the album feels fitting as Black Stone Cherry appear to have finally grasped the roots of what they always wanted to be. And at six albums in, it's encouraging to see the band deliver what should stand as one of the top releases of their career.