BLACK STONE CHERRY – Black To Blues, Vol. 2 + Extras (2019)
Bluesy classic rockers BLACK STONE CHERRY will release another volume of tributes to their blues roots and heroes on “Black To Blues, Vol. 2”, continuing the work they started three years ago with the superb Vol.1. for this new release Black Stone Cherry selected more of their favorite tunes by Freddie King, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Son House, reimagined with the meaty moxie of classic BSC.
As extra, we have in exclusive some remixes of songs from Vol.1 only distributed via the fan club.
Here Black Stone Cherry once again attempts a modern revision of blues staples. Having tackled Muddy Waters, Albert King and Willie Dixon on 2017’s Black To Blues Vol.1, the outfit takes aim at new handful of legends, delivering a tight collection of technicolor interpretations of their styles and songs.
With their comparatively austere arrangements, the source material is fertile ground for expansion and embellishment; two of the originals feature only guitar and voice.
“Big Legged Woman” immediately introduces two aspects of the album’s tracks that differ from their original versions: Yates McKendree’s omnipresent keys and the throbbing, low-end drive provided by Jon Lawhon (bass) and John Fred Young (drums). Chris Robertson’s indispensable vocal and guitar leads impress, but so do those of Freddie King’s rendition. The qualitative difference between the two versions is the sheer amount of sound filling up the entire soundscape and the prominent piano work and solo.
Eerie kalimba and unsettling wails introduce Robert Johnson’s “Me & The Devil Blues,” the most divergent cover of the set. More than simply filling in the sonic space afforded by the spartan original, Black Stone Cherry reworks the mood by adding clavichord funkiness and a bright, fluid, guitar solo that momentarily leaves the traditional blues pallette for more chromatic phrasing.
Repurposing Otis Rush’s solo as an introduction, “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” keeps the haunting reverb soaked feel and shuffling rhythm, but does away with the horns on a louder and fuller retread. A double-time, call and response solo section mimics the original before McKendree reappears with a cool Rhodes piano outro—the highlight of the song.
“Down In The Bottom” faithfully recreates the iconic Howlin’ Wolf rhythm, adding colorful organ accompaniment and a couple of notable instrumental breaks. Concluding with both organ and harmonica solos, the shortest and most direct number of the album packs a lot of sounds into a small space.
“Early One Morning” pays homage to the Elmore James slide riff, but quickly splits off into a funky, southern-rock groove dominated by jumpy guitar and rollicking piano. Black Stone Cherry allows some of its signature sound to slip into the mix as the rhythm intensifies and the distortion kicks in. The track is an interesting imagining of what James may have sounded like in a modern blues-rock setting.
The band saves the best for last, emphatically closing with Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.” Drenched in chunky rhythm and great guitar fills, the massively overdriven blues harp differentiates this version from a myriad of other covers.
Admittedly, this song—and really Black To Blues Volume 2 as a whole—benefits from excellent choice in source material, and some listeners may hold that against the set. However, that would overlook the instrumental discretion and imaginative structural choices that separate this album from uninspired or heavy-handed attempts at the same.
Black Stone Cherry avoids the pitfall of turning sparse originals into ten-minute vanity pieces, while still imbuing enough creativity to produce versions that can stand on their own — for this, their “Black To Blues, Vol. 2” should be highly recommended.
01 – Big Legged Woman
02 – Me & The Devil Blues
03 – All Your Love (I Miss Loving)
04 – Down In The Bottom
05 – Early One Morning
06 – Death Letter Blues
07 – Champagne & Reefer (Remix)
08 – Hoochie Coochie Man (Remix)
09 – Built For Comfort (Remix)
10 – I Want To Be Loved (Remix)
Chris Robertson – lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar
Ben Wells – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
Jon Lawhon – bass, backing vocals
John Fred Young – drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals
Yates McKendree – keyboards