There are few things in life as reliable and trustworthy as a new album from Black Stone Cherry. Especially a new album tracked in a 1930s-era theater rather than the sterile environment of many modern recording studios. The decision to track studio album number eight at The Plaza Theater in Glasgow, Kentucky, was an inspired decision, for ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ is truly fierce-sounding (especially the hammer on anvil drum sound from John Fred Young).
If you listen to an album in the old-school way of bypassing the singles and waiting until release day, then the opening track is the first impression that you get of said album. And Black Stone Cherry certainly makes an impression with the opening track; the title track. Coming flying out of the traps, frontman Chris Robertson declares with some grit in his voice: “Oh Lord, get me a witness/I need to say what I’m feelin’/We’ve had enough of this shit/You know, we all need some healin’…” and the healing begins. Sounding larger than Godzilla’s bigger brother (and since the album was self-produced, the band deserves all the credit) ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ is a fiery way to signal a new chapter in the BSC story as this is the first album in the band’s 17-year recording legacy to feature a new band member, with Steve Jewell Jr. slotting in seamlessly on bass and backing vocals duties (his thick bass lines on ‘Raindrops On A Rose’ in particular stand out). All the trademark Black Stone Cherry-isms that make the band so instantly recognisable – big-assed riffs, thunderous drums, heartfelt vocals – are present and correct, with the crystal clear production allowing the listener a seat on a stool next to John Fred’s kit.
‘Nervous’ quickly follows on and is arguably one of the standout moments on the album. BSC mixes it up with some clean guitar melodies on the quiet parts that meld together perfectly with the explosions of sound that burst to life throughout the song. With autobiographical lyrics from Robertson that are bare to the bone; “… I’m not perfect, just a person/And I stay fucking nervous…” followed by the pole-axing “…Tell me what I’m looking for/Tell me what I’m trying to find/I could never watch you hurt/Watch me break this fucking curse…”, the warm, engaging, and relatable frontman bares his soul for all to see. The narrative of loss and the aftermath that follows is prevalent throughout the album, with ‘When The Pain Comes’ being a prime example. Likewise, ‘Out Of Pocket’ has Robertson opening his heart with lines like “…I need a minute to breathe if nothing else/And let go of this pain I keep holding…” and “…Sometimes the notion to let go of it all/Gets a little bit overwhelming…”.
Always one to try and break the stigma surrounding mental health issues – especially in men – Chris Robertson is a strong advocate for speaking the truth rather than the “Boys don’t cry” attitude that is still sadly all too common these days. There must have been more than a few painful moments for him on ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’, but hopefully it worked as a cathartic release, and the infectious ‘Smile, World’ would suggest that it did. Offering up a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel ethos with hopeful lyrics like “…I be handing out love when I’m counting them blessings…”, ‘Smile, World’ is a wah-wah (or is it a Peter Frampton-style talkbox?) fuelled classic full of incendiary guitar playing from Robertson (with brother-in-arms Ben Wells backing him up) – great fun this one. ‘The Mess You Made’ and ‘Not Afraid’ are another noteworthy few minutes, with the bass work from Jewell Jr. and drum sound from Young combining to steal the show on the former, and the all-in jam on the intro to the latter in serious danger of wearing out the repeat button – would be interesting to hear an all-instrumental version of this total banger.
After a horrendous few years on a personal level for Black Stone Cherry, ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ is the triumphant sound of a band coming out the other side. A brave album, not so much in the sense of “brave” meaning adopting a new sound or going down a different path, but it takes bravery to put yourself out there in the way that Chris Robertson has, and in the words of Ben Wells: “We see something beautiful letting pain out. You come out a better person.”
‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ is available now via Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group, more information here.
The band are underway with a string of in-store appearances at selected Rough Trade and hmv stores around the country and a batch of ‘already sold-out’ intimate shows at small-capacity venues around the UK & Ireland.
Remaining dates run as follows:
Mon 2nd Oct – NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Tue 3rd Oct – MANCHESTER Rebellion
Thu 5th Oct – BRISTOL Fleece
Fri 6th Oct – GLASGOW St Lukes
Review – Dave
Portrait photo credit – Jimmy Fontaine
Live image – Rob Wilkins Steelhouse Festival 2023