It’s customary, if not a legal requirement, for bands from the American south to spend much of their media time telling everyone just how much they love the old country. And last time we looked, Black Stone Cherry were tapping deeper than ever into the cultural heritage of their homeland, while coating it in a reliably thunderous hard rock crunch.
On 2018’s Family Tree, which followed the rootsy, home-lovin’ Kentucky, their sound was unearthing roots in gnarly blues riffs and southern rock, while promising touches of vintage R&B were also creeping in.
But on studio album number seven they seem to have one eye back on the road to American rock’s heartland, with The Human Condition aiming squarely at the centre of the radio dial, where hook-centric drive-time bangers reside.
There’s still a gnawing rage gnashing away beneath many of these songs, not least on opening salvo Ringin’ In My Head, which seems to speak, either side of a yell-along chorus, to the personal demons that guitarist/lead vocalist Chris Robertson has battled over the years.
The Chain acknowledges darkly that ‘we’ve all been living in pain’, before exhorting us to ‘fight for one another’, then I’m In Love With The Pain manages to get an air-punching anthem out of an addiction to a toxic relationship.
Even their cover of Electric Light Orchestra’s Don’t Bring Me Down, when delivered by Robertson’s angst-ridden rasp and underpinned by a snarly reading of the central guitar riff, sounds considerably more malevolent than the effusive original.
Elsewhere, though, the strokes are broader still. When Angels Learn To Fly has a string section on it, such is its epic ambitions, and If My Heart Had Wings (yes, the cliché police might take a dim view of some of this) is a full-on, phones-aloft power ballad in the vein of Stay.
With this and several other tunes, Black Stone Cherry try just a little too hard to create rock’n’roll earworms, but they’re without the pithy attitude of previous crowd pleasers like White Trash Millionaire, and although they grab you pretty instantly they don’t all leave a lasting mark.
Still, their bruised, battered heart is still pumping on songs like album closer Keep On Keepin’ On, as Robertson asserts: ‘Through all the blood and all the tears, I’m here laughing at my fears.’ This is a band with nothing to prove to their loyal worldwide fan base, and they sound best when they’re not so eager to please.