Named after the part of the Midlands where two of the band members grew up, Black Country Communion is a supergroup featuring Glenn Hughes, one time Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian, blues prodigy Joe Bonamassa and Jason Bonham. As an admirer of all the band members, in theory, I thought Black Country Communion seemed like a great idea. In reality, things could have turned out better. By the end of the album, BCC have had a good stab at fulfilling their potential (even if the end results aren’t as classic as they could have been), but there are moments at the beginning where it feels like that potential might never be realised.
The opening number, ‘Black Country’ begins with a thunderous bassline, coupled with Bonham’s cymbals, before the band crash headlong into a galloping mess, over which Glenn Hughes delivers what he likely thinks is a emotionally charged vocal. In his attempt to be a nach for the juggernaut of sound, his voice becomes no more than painful rock shouting. The sad thing is, Hughes can sing and is often capable of blues and soul influenced performances which really hit the spot. Here, though, there’s no evidence of that at all. Joe Bonamassa’s guitar solo is the track’s high point, but even then, it’s all about speed and there’s no real emotion in his playing. Still, at least it keeps Glenn quiet for a few bars.
Despite being constructed around a choppy riff which sounds as if Bonamassa played it wearing mittens, ‘One Last Soul’ gains slightly more credibility due to an Eastern tinged mid-section, a semi-respectable vocal and a solid drum performance. But, although it’s an improvement over the opening track, it still doesn’t resemble anything which deserves repeated listening – and it certainly doesn’t sound like the work of four talented, highly respected musicians. Bonamassa hits a couple of vibrato edged notes during the intro of ‘The Great Divide’, before a crunchy riff takes over. The song’s verses have a slightly soulful feel and, thankfully, Hughes’s voice here is much more akin to what I’ve come to expect from a man who earned his nickname “The Voice of Rock”. However, by the time a heavier chorus takes hold, he’s wandered back across the line into tuneless warbling. Jason Bonham’s drums are far too loud (as they are throughout about half of this disc – but hey, he’s his father’s son) and the whole thing feels like wading through treacle. Underneath the barrage of sound, Derek Sherinian can be heard laying down some old-school Hammond organ, but with so much else going on, you’ll wonder why he bothered.
With the worst part of the album left safely behind, there’s an improvement from here on. BCC stop attempting to grab your attention with uninspired – and in Glenn Hughes’s case, unflattering – hard rock performances and go for a musical style rather more suited to their talents.
Taking its cue from Deep Purple’s 1974 classic ‘Sail Away’, a simple riff provides the foundations for ‘Down Again’ and, here, there’s plenty of chemistry here between the musicians. With Bonham’s drums acting as the dominant force and Bonamassa putting his great riff to equally great use, Glenn doesn’t feel the need to squeal anywhere near as much (although he’s not quite guilt free, as he overstretches his voice a tad towards the end). A closing section allows Bonzo Jr a little time for some effective drum and cymbal interplay and Bonamassa tinkers with his guitar in an atmospheric way. ‘Beggarman’ also captures the band playing to their blues-rock strengths, with Bonamassa’s adopted guitar style showing a heavy influence from Jimi Hendrix and one-time Black Crowes/Cry of Love man Audley Freed.
One of two numbers with Bonamassa taking the lead vocal, ‘Song of Yesterday’ could have been recorded by Free, circa their 1971 album ‘Highway’ – although the end result is slightly heavier. Bonamassa’s vocal has more than a touch of Paul Rodgers, particularly on the softer notes – and compared to Hughes’s overblown style, he’s certainly my preferred vocalist in BCC. With that emotive vocal coupled with a clean guitar tone (plus a fantastic solo), then held together with solid bass playing, surprisingly restrained drum work and some string sounds, this is definitely the album’s high point.
‘The Revolution In Me’ has an arrangement which sounds like a cross between Rainbow’s ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ and Uriah Heep’s ‘Gypsy’, so there’s no denying it’s punchy enough. However, there’s not much of a song behind that riffing and bombast, and while Sherinian’s occasional Hammond organ fills have a classic feel, the track really drags. ‘Sista Jane’ has a strong opening with a riff which sounds like AC/DC’s ‘Sin City’, before settling into a classic rock styled romp. During a dual vocal, Hughes continues his tendency for over-singing, which overshadows Bonamassa’s infinitely superior voice. An attempt at a chorus gives the number a half-decent hook, but it’s most striking element is Bonham’s drum interlude – starting quietly, then building until Bonamassa chimes in with a couple of power chords. There’s a definite nod to Keith Moon and The Who here. Taking a blues-rock riff and twisting it into something funkier, ‘Stand (at the Burning Tree)’ features one of the album’s more interesting arrangements. Glenn Hughes’s vocal is one of his best ones as far as this release is concerned (though as expected, that’s only true of the softer bits) and it’s great to hear Derek Sherinian get a featured solo, since most of his other contributions are limited to slabs of organ which don’t often make a great impact.
The opening numbers give the impression that this album is one of 2010’s worst releases. It’s certainly not the best work from any of the musicians involved. Luckily, a few of the bluesier tracks help save face – just make sure you start listening from track 4.