Black Country Communion, S/T

At the risk of Glenn Hughes overload (if such be possible), I thought I’d offer my tardy pensées on the hotly anticipated debut album of his supergroup, also featuring the stellar talents of Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian. For yours truly, this was the most keenly anticipated rock release of the year; for a certain kind of rock fan, you can’t get much better than the thought of a Hughes/Bonham rhythm section combining with the great man’s vocals and the mind-blowing leads of the hottest guitar slinger around. So, after four and a bit spins, the obvious question is: does it deliver?

I would have to answer resoundingly in the affirmative. From the bone-shaking bass riff that ushers in thundering opener ‘Black Country’ to the extended jamming that concludes epic closing cut ‘Too Late for the Sun’, the listener may rest assured of having his ass kicked at every available opportunity in the proceedings. Bonham, whose mighty prowess behind the kit seriously impressed itself upon me on UFO’s majestic You Are Here (2004), is on imperious form throughout, locking in tightly with Hughes’s fearsome bass work. (To my ears, Hughes has improved markedly as a rock bassist over his four decades or so in the business. With Deep Purple, his rather thin, funk-oriented sound, and relative lack of aggressive drive and power compared to Roger Glover’s style could be a bit of a problem in live performance; there is, however, nothing lacking in drive and power about Black Country Communion.) Bonamassa’s playing is focussed and impeccably refined, reflecting the band ethos of the project, and paying clear homage to the real age of the guitar hero, long before the computer game was envisioned. Sherinian, for the most part, plays a supportive role in the band – and a damn fine job he does of it, often evincing a Chick Churchill-like ability to add atmosphere and render the band’s sound expansive with his Hammond and synth playing, without compromising the raw sonic unity of the whole (he does, however, get to cut loose with some Lordly Hammond soloing on ‘Stand (at the Burning Tree)’, in a brilliantly Purple-esque exchange with Bonamassa).

Stylistically, the album is clearly oriented towards the classics, with the influences of Zeppelin, Free and Hughes’s illustrious former employers looming large (there is also a surprising whiff of AC/DC about ‘Sista Jane’, in which Bonamassa’s immense open chords batter lugholes senseless during the chorus). Many of the songs, unsurprisingly, are evocative of Glenn Hughes’s solo work; notably ‘One Last Soul’ and ‘Beggarman’ – hard-hitting but sophisticated rock anthems, bearing in their chord progressions the hallmarks of the best of his solo efforts. Other highlights include ‘The Revolution in Me’, with its wacky time signatures and Supertramp-meets-early-Rush instrumental break, ‘Song of Yesterday, featuring some of Bonamassa’s best extended lead playing, and ‘The Great Divide’, which is, simply, a beautifully written song.

For all of the inevitable comparisons to the BCC members’ solo careers and other projects, the best thing about this ‘supergroup’, as against many others bearing the label, is its unimpeachable integrity as a band. The chemistry between the players is palpable, and it’s clear that they had a blast in the whirlwind recording of this album. Perhaps the greatest tribute not only to their virtuosity, but to the perspicacity and maturity of their musical instincts, is the aforementioned long instrumental conclusion of ‘Too Late for the Sun’, built around a mind-numbingly simple repeated two-note riff, but which, thanks to the band’s sense of theatrics and command of dynamics, holds the listener spellbound throughout.

Younger pups take note.

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