2016 Preview: Black Stone Cherry

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Southern rock revivalists Black Stone Cherry release their fifth album in April, and drummer John Fred Young promises it will be a back-to-basics style.

“That’s why we’re calling it Kentucky, after the state in which we live, because it’s a little more of a personal statement than our last couple of albums,” he explains.

Prior to playing at last summer’s Download festival, rhythm guitarist Ben Wells had told Classic Rock that the material the band were demoing was “very rocking stuff, more like our first album”, adding: “We’ve returned to the naïveté of when we first started out.”

“That’s true,” Young affirms. “And we’re very proud indeed of the results.”

Earlier in 2015 the band had split from Roadrunner Records, their home since that debut in 2006. Being without a label was both frightening and liberating, the drummer says. “To stand here and try to claim that it wasn’t scary would be a lie, but the bottom line was that the split gave us the chance of a good, fresh start,” Young admits. “So we dusted ourselves down, returned to the practice house and continued writing those songs.

“This time there was no pressure from an A&R guy,” he continues. “Nobody was telling us to write a song that might impress American rock radio stations, which is something we’ve struggled with throughout our career. The only folks we had something to prove to was ourselves.”

Aside from sessions in the group’s practice house, the songs on the album were born on tour buses and in hotel rooms in America and Europe. “Some days we’d be working on a tune right before we went on stage,” Young remembers. “Chris [Robertson, vocals/guitar] would have his Pro Tools in the back of the bus and gradually things came together.”

Kentucky was recorded at Barrick Studios in Glasgow, the home town of Ben Wells (the rest of the band now live marginally further afield, but that’s by the by). Set within Glasgow’s local music store, the studio is still owned by David Barrick, who co-produced BSC’s self-titled debut album along with Richard Young, John Fred’s father and a member of Grammy-winning southern veterans the Kentucky Headhunters. Barrick returned to engineer these latest sessions.

“The thing I’m most proud of with this record is Chris Robertson’s voice,” John Fred says of the outcome. “This is one of the very few rock records with absolutely no auto-tune whatsoever. Chris is an incredible singer, but he’s outdone himself.”

Recording took place amid barbecues (outside, obviously) and with musician friends dropping in, among them a troupe by the name of Fatbox, who added horns to a song titled Soul Machine.

Other tracks on Kentucky include Shakin’ My Cage and In Our Dreams, the latter a potential single. Another track, The Rambler, is a collaboration with Jasin Todd, a co-founder of the band Shinedown, who departed that group in 2008.

“Jasin’s new band opened up for us back in the summer,” Young explains, “and he came on to our bus saying, ‘I’ve got a song for y’all.’ Man, my mouth fell open and I went to get the rest of the guys, and by the time it had finished we were all in tears. So we tweaked and recorded it, but the song is Jasin’s.”

Kentucky will be released by Mascot Records (home of Joe Bonamassa, among many others). After leaving Roadrunner, the band had considered several options, including forming their own label, but they were taken aback by the amount of interest there was in securing their signatures.

“Being a free bird was nice… for a while,” Young laughs, “and it was flattering that a lot of people came out of the woodwork and wanted to work with us. For a while there we felt like the hot chick that all the guys want to date. It was a nice feeling.”

Expect to hear “a couple” of the album’s new tunes when BSS headline this month’s Carnival Of Madness UK arena tour, with Shinedown and Halestorm along for the ride.

“We’re still deciding which ones to play,” Young says, chuckling. “It’s making us feel like little kids unwrapping their Christmas presents. We want to open them all!”