Does anyone really need this review? Anyone who’s even the tiniest bit invested in what Black Stone Cherry have to offer will pretty much have Kentucky sussed beat for beat – more helpings of groove-heavy, Southern-fried hard rock big on hooks and some killer riffs. The fact that these are immediate preconceptions just show how reliable Black Stone Cherry are, and on their fifth album, they offer more of the same, and they do it just as well as they always have.
When at their best on Kentucky, Black Stone Cherry are virtually unstoppable. What sets them apart from their companions in the US radio rock bubble is that the quartet know the value of a hulking great riff, of which Kentucky has its fair share. The Way Of The Future kicks the album off with its sludgy groove before exploding into its cherry bomb of a chorus, and Shakin’ My Cage slams into its canyon-sized groove, magnified by Chris Robertson’s low, dirty vocals.
It’s certainly not clever and won’t be the sort of thing to satiate those with a taste for the more cerebral, but in the right mindset, Kentucky has plenty to get into. Soul Machine tricks out its chorus with smatterings of horns and female backing vocals that make an already great song a true arena-ready anthem, and a cover of Edwin Starr’s War beefs up the original with its stomping hook and powerful, multi-layered vocals. Kentucky really shows Black Stone Cherry’s immense talent for writing the most huge, straightforward rock songs, and though they’re not breaking any ground – even in terms of their own back catalogue – but its impressiveness can’t be denied.
But of course, with this being a Black Stone Cherry album, the faults that permeated their previous releases remain here. There’s a definite cheesiness to Long Ride‘s chilled out radio rock and the smooth country rock of Cheaper To Drink Alone, but they’re definitely still likeable. The real problem comes mainly in the album’s back end, like in the one-two of Darkest Secret and Born To Die which feel recycled musically and bring nothing new to the table, or Rescue Me, which suffers from being overly forgettable.
But any criticisms of Black Stone Cherry having to resort to repetition are quickly put to bed with album closer The Rambler, a stripped-back, acoustic track framed as an apologetic plea from a traveling country singer to his estranged daughter. It’s the most poignant Black Stone Cherry have been since 2008’s Things My Father Said, perhaps even more so thanks to Robertson’s cracking and wavering vocal mid-song, and is, by a mile, the best song on the album.
It alone is enough of a reason to keep sticking with Black Stone Cherry, if only to see little gems like this pop up. Other than that though, Kentucky is essentially more of the same, the same being some really solid hard rock that does exactly what it should to be good. It never deviates from the band’s traditional formula, but then again it never needs to – Kentucky is Black Stone Cherry playing to every strength they have, and it pays off handsomely.
For fans of: Alter Bridge, Corrosion Of Conformity, Stone Sour
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Kentucky’ by Black Stone Cherry is released on 1st April on Mascot Music Productions.