Black Country Communion – Black Country Communion

January 01, 1970




Blues fans
wondered what guitarist Joe Bonamassa was up to when the news leaked out that
he had formed an ersatz “supergroup” with singer/bassist Glenn
Hughes, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, and drummer Jason Bonham. Bonamassa had
come off the best year of his career in 2009, releasing his
critically-acclaimed The Ballad of John
album, headlining at the Royal Albert Hall in London (with Eric
Clapton dropping by to lend a hand), and recording what would become his
current album, Black Rock, in
Santorini, Greece. It seems like the young bluesman should have been too busy
to hook up in the studio with his new friends under the Black Country Communion
rubric but here we are, just six months after the release of Black Rock, holding in our hands the
supergroup’s brand spankin’ new, self-titled debut.


the heavier guitar sound that Bonamassa brought to the grooves of Black Country,
it should come as no surprise that he’d try and find some musicians to help
bring his new, classic rock-oriented musical vision to life. Truth is, he
probably couldn’t have found a better crew to get the sounds in his head down
on tape – Hughes, known as the “Voice of Rock,” is a lifer with
stints in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath to his credit, as well as a significant
solo career that has spanned three decades. Sherinian is best known as the
keyboard virtuoso of prog-metal legends Dream Theater, but he has also toured
with Alice Cooper and Kiss. Bonham is a rock legacy who has brought his
percussive percussion skills to a number of bands, as well as filling his late
father’s seat behind the drums during infrequent Led Zeppelin reunions. In short,
this is a gang of guys that know how to RAWK!


And make
no mistake about it, gentle reader, from the top of its head to the soles of
its shoes, Black
Communion is
a classic rock ‘n’ roll album. Slap this puppy on your soundbox and your head
will start spinning, the walls will breathe, everything goes dark and your ears
will begin to bleed – it’s just that damn good. Seems as if Bonamassa may have listened
to as much 1970s-era rock ‘n’ roll growing up as he did blues music, and given
the opportunity to let his freak flag fly, he does so with reckless aplomb.
Hughes, of course, helped write a page or two in the book of rock back in the
day, and he finds his groove quite naturally while Bonham, much like his late
father, may well be the best pure rock ‘n’ roll drummer on the planet right
now, combining a mix of sonic explosiveness and dangerous subtlety unlike any
other skin-pounder. Sherinian’s role here is not overshadowed by the talents
he’s playing with…hell, he plays alongside a world class guitarist and drummer
in Dream Theater; thus he remains undaunted in the presence of Black Country
Communion’s assembled talents. Sherinian’s subtle flourishes round out the
songs and balance Bonamassa’s six-string pyrotechnics, but when called on to
jump into the spotlight, he does so with amazing dexterity and imagination.


album-opening title track opens with Hughes’ blistering runs up and down the
bass fretboard; after a few bars he’s joined on guitar by Bonamassa. Hughes’
soulful vocal howl is part Ronnie James Dio, part Otis Redding, a dangerous
weapon on par with the bass that he yields, or Bonamassa’s ever present guitar.
Black Country is the area of England
that Hughes and Bonham both hail from, “Black Country”
the song is a Dio-styled fantasy with larger-than-life vocals and crashing
instrumentation that refers to the region only fleetingly. Given free reign
here, Bonamassa’s cuts loose with six-string solos that deliver pure chills up
and down your spine, miles away from the blues-rock phrasing on which he has
built his reputation. The song devolves into pure delightful chaos for the last
20 seconds or so, each of the instrumentalists adding their own joyful noise to
the mix.


Much of
the rest of Black
Communion offers a similar contemporary vision of a definitely 1970s-influenced style of
rock music where instrumental virtuosity was still respected, and the music
achieved loudness and heaviness without studio trickery or software
compression. The twelve-track collection will thrill the Rock Band gamer generation looking for something real, while old
geezers like the Reverend will simply bang our heads in appreciation. Hughes
delivers the bulk of the vocals here, only appropriate given his status as one
of rock’s pure-hearted wailers…just give “Beggarman” a spin and
you’ll swear off modern rock forever. Bonamassa seems to be channeling the
spirit of Jimi Hendrix, and Hughes’ funky bass line and Bonham’s machinegun
drumbeats create a sense of urgency while Hughes’ vocals dash and dart, growl
and howl throughout the mix.


Bonamassa does step up to the microphone for a turn on “Song of
Yesterday,” the contrast is not altogether unwelcome. Bonamassa’s vocals
have a soul of their own, bolstered by his filigree fretwork and the elegant
instrumental backdrop that Sherinian has created for the intro. When the anvil
drops, it’s every bit as jarring as a spinal tap with a bent needle, Bonham’s
jackhammer blasts and Hughes’ deep rumbling bass delivering the short, sharp
shock. The song runs hot and cold throughout, its bluesy atmospherics tempered
by explosions of sheer sonic excess. Bonamassa’s other vocal contribution, on
the Sabbath-styled doom-n-gloom number “The Revolution In Me” is
somewhat different, young Joe trying to mix a little Robert Plant-styled sturm
und drang amidst the plodding, powerful rhythms and molten instrumentation.


Hughes and
Bonamassa share vocals on “Sista Jane” and “Too Late For The
Sun,” the former an interesting but overall unremarkable rocker that
reminds of weak-tea Jane’s Addiction, the latter providing a stronger brew,
mixing the bombast of Cream with some stellar fretwork, blistering keyboards,
and an overall dark-hued ambience. The highlight of Black Country Communion, at least for us old farts,
is Hughes taking his song “Medusa” out of storage, shaking off the
dust, and re-creating it for the new millennium. Recorded in 1971 with his
original blues-rock outfit Trapeze, “Medusa” circa 2010 is a
steroid-injected, muscle-bound hard rock dirge with soaring vocals, bludgeoning
rhythms, and fiery guitar solos that leave naught but scorched earth and
burning buildings in their wake.


Only time
will tell whether or not Black Country Communion lasts longer than a single
album and short tour, or if the band grows into something else entirely, like
Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio did with Heaven & Hell. Black Country Communion the album proves that there’s
a definite chemistry between these four players that, given a chance to evolve
creatively, may develop into the last true rock band in the universe. Bonamassa
shows that there’s more than blues guitar in his arsenal, that he can shred and
burn up the frets with the best of them. Hughes’ voice remains otherworldly
impressive, and his bass playing is as potent, imaginative, and heavy as it was
35 years ago with Deep Purple. Bonham can pound away with the best of ’em,
better than most really, while Sherinian is a musical “MVP” in
anybody’s book. Together, these four talents have created a great classic rock
album in Black
let’s hope that they continue venturing down this path a little while longer….


DOWNLOAD: “Medusa,” “Song of
Yesterday,” “Black Country”



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