BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Black Country Communion 2

bcc2It was surprising that Black Country Communion’s second album should be unleashed on the world so quickly. Released just nine months after their debut, you have to marvel at the speed these four musicians wrote and recorded their second batch of songs. It’s highly likely, of course, that this second album features material they were working on during the sessions for the first album. Whatever, this second album captures the band (once again featuring Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian) in fine form indeed.

A few early reports claimed this doesn’t quite have the impact of the debut album and in some ways that’s true as on this follow up, Black Country Communion offer far less bombast. This is helped by a slicker studio production and by Glenn Hughes reigning in his vocals a little. [Kevin Shirley’s production is much better on this album compared to that of BCC’s slightly more live-sounding debut; and thankfully it’s streets ahead of the nasty sound he gave Bonamassa’s own ‘Black Rock’ from the same year, which had all the sonic range and finesse of listening to something with your fingers in your ears]. Also, the songwriting is much stronger than before, perhaps more melodic in places, which is also very welcome.

The opening track, ‘The Outsider’ comes equipped with a huge pounding riff, which includes some great bass fills from Hughes underpinned by Jason Bonham’s “family inheritance” drumming style. While it’s certainly one of the album’s most full-on tracks (presumably positioned at the front to grab attention and provide continuity from the first album), it’s nowhere near as grating as the debut’s bombastic rockers, since Glenn Hughes’s vocals are nowhere near as squawky. Also, a far more sympathetic mix means that this time out, Derek Sherinian’s keyboard work isn’t buried and here, his featured keyboard solo is top-notch, carrying the spirit of Jon Lord and Don Airey. Although Bonamassa’s solos aren’t quite as striking as Sherinian’s keyboard work, it’s impossible not to smile when he breaks into some very Ritchie Blackmore-esque leads nearing the track’s end. ‘Man In The Middle’s dirty, swaggering old-school riff should be enough to persuade most of you that BCC mean business this time around, especially once that huge riff is intercut with eastern keyboard washes on the chorus. It’s like a perfect fusion of Glenn Hughes’s ‘Addiction’ and Dio era Rainbow (you’ll probably spot a cheeky Zeppelin-ism thrown in at the end too!).

‘Faithless’ endulges Joe Bonamassa’s Free fixation, featuring a riff which is very Paul Kossoff influenced in places. The eastern keyboards from ‘Man In The Middle’ make a welcome return and Sherinian’s understated work adds a nice touch.
Surprisingly (considering his over-the-top performances on BCC’s debut), this track gives Hughes plenty of opportunity to shine. His voice is spot on throughout – his rock chops retaining just enough soul to take the edge off – and his bass work is superb too; at times rock-solid, at other times offering small bendy flourishes which have a great impact – this is so, so much better than most of the Black Country Communion debut. Similarly, the eight minute epic ‘No Ordinary Son’ is absolutely first-rate. Bonamassa offers a superb, blues tinged lead vocal with hints of Paul Rodgers and Danny Bowes, while his softer guitar lines are very classy with a clean tone. Building from soft beginnings, it’s a very impassioned number and by the time the hard rock elements take their place for more even more Free influenced grooves, Black Country Communion hit all their marks with absolute ease. Even Glenn Hughes’s slightly warbly vocal section doesn’t spoil the overall mood, and even if it did, this time he could be forgiven, since his bass lines underpinning all the more obvious elements have a brilliant fluidity.

The softer side of BCC comes to the fore for ‘Battle of Hadrian’s Wall’ where the acoustic guitar work provides a great backdrop for Sherinan’s organ swirls and some great vocal harmonies between Hughes and Bonamassa. It’s not all pastel shades, though. A sharp rock riff cuts through once in a while, although it doesn’t always feel necessary. Jason Bonham takes this opportunity to play something a little softer too – his shuffling drum lines are very sympathetic to Bonamassa’s electric leads during the number’s closing moments. It’s great to hear a little mandolin in there; maybe it would have been even better if that had been given a more prominent role.

‘I Can See Your Spirit’ is a hard rock workout which features a great Led Zeppelin inspired riff and naturally, Bonham Jr is well-equipped to give that riff a suitably powerful backbone. Glenn Hughes’s vocal, meanwhile, has an air of Deep Purple’s ‘Burn’ – an atmosphere driven to more obvious extremes by Sherinian’s Hammond organ work. For fans of Black Country Communion’s bluesier tones, ‘Little Secret’ is a slow burning number in the ‘Since I’m Gonna Leave You’ mould, which Hughes absolutely nails vocally, while Jason Bonham’s drumming has so much of his father’s spirit, you can almost hear the squeaky drum pedal. It’s probably a highlight with regard to guitar playing, since Bonamassa’s solos are mostly about feel rather than flash; his long, vibrating notes are just lovely.

Hughes, Bonham, Sherinian and Bonamassa sound more comfortable playing together than they did first time around and make recording that “difficult second album” seem so easy. Thankfully, they also avoid the pitfalls of the supergroup, and don’t feel the need for any kind of musical one-upmanship. With a better sound, better songs and proof that sometimes holding back a little can give the listener a greater listening experience, this is the album Black Country Communion could – and should – have made first time around.

June 2011