Review by Greg Maki
Black Stone Cherry never has been shy about its deep roots in blues and Southern rock. Its fifth studio album was named for its home state of Kentucky, and 2017 saw the release of the EP “Black to Blues,” featuring covers of six classic blues songs. Even more than the sound, though it’s certainly there, the freewheeling nature of the blues carries over into Black Stone Cherry’s sixth full-length release, “Family Tree.”
Self-produced, the record finds the band embracing its identity and heritage, storming through 13 tracks with Southern rock swagger. Chris Robertson’s vocals have never been more soulful and powerful; the incendiary riffs virtually leap out of the speakers; and the rhythm section, led by John Fred Young, one of the best rock drummers of the 21st century, provides that undeniable groove. Highlights include the driving opener “Bad Habit,” the grooving “New Kinda Feelin’,” the heartfelt “My Last Breath,” the good-time rocker “Southern Fried Friday Night” and the funky “James Brown.” But there isn’t a bad song in the bunch; hearing one just makes me want to put everything else on hold until I’ve heard all the others again, too.
In addition to singing and playing guitar, Robertson mixed the album and did a spectacular job. Instead of going for the thick hard rock sound that has been prevalent on previous Black Stone Cherry records, he allows some space in his mix that highlights each player and enhances the looser feel of the arrangements. The record just sounds great, which is a credit to the entire band, which also includes guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon. (The group’s lineup hasn’t changed since forming in 2001.)
Though the band surely has a whole lot of music still ahead of it, “Family Tree” feels like a career-defining album for Black Stone Cherry. If you want to know what these four guys from Kentucky are all about, this is the place to start.
(Mascot Records, April 20, 2018)