They’ve been flying the flag for a distinct strand of unyielding southern rock for over 20 years. On Screamin’ At The Sky, album number eight, Black Stone Cherry’s formula remains reassuringly simple: songs that pack a ferocious punch; guitar fireworks that crash and burn; Chris Robertson’s grizzled, last-man-standing vocals; and an admirable refusal to lighten the load with anything as compromising as a ballad. If they came from South Wales rather than South Kentucky they’d be Stereophonics.
Rather than embrace the occasionally spacey wanderings of a Lynyrd Skynyrd or the backwoods twang of Molly Hatchet, they noted both the musical density of Daughtry-style grunge and the more bluesy side of the Allman Brothers or Johnny Winter without actually sounding like an overt blues band, if we forget their Back To Blues EPs of 2017 and ’19. It’s a fine line, but with the ferocious The Mess You Made spraying riffs like a catherine wheel and Not Afraid dishing the cascading grunge dirt, they straddle it impressively.
After 2020’s unusually flat The Human Condition was recorded at Jon Lawhon’s studio, he was out after 20 years at the bass coal face in favour of Steve Jewell Jr, formerly of BSC support act Otis.
Last June they rented one of their favourite venues, the Plaza Theater in Glasgow (Kentucky not Scotland) and recorded most of Screamin’ At The Sky there. Whatever magic the new bass blood and the new way of recording brought, only they really know, but Black Stone Cherry haven’t sounded this invigorated since the breathless Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea.
Beyond the atypically sunny Smile World (‘Got that grateful disease, hope to make it infectious’) and the self-help hokum of You Can Have It All, the death of Robertson’s father from cancer in 2021 has brought lyrical gravitas, musical catharsis and, with Robertson Jr’s 40th birthday looming, a sense of mortality. ‘It’s been a while since I felt like this,’ Robertson reflects on R.O.A.R., ‘I’m so sorry for all that I’ve missed.’
All that’s right about Black Stone Cherry explodes on the turbo-charged Out Of Pocket, which rattles along with a blinding intensity, the genuinely comforting (albeit with Roy Kent from Ted Lasso-style gruffness) Here’s To The Hopeless, and the mighty Nervous which kick-starts with John Fred Young’s whiplash drums before Robertson asks: “Is anybody listening?” On this evidence, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.