Black Country Communion – Black Country (2010)

Supergroups are tricky affairs. They rarely sound as good as one would expect, and it seems the bigger the names involved, the higher the chance of utter disappointment. The Crooked Vultures comes to mind, and I wish it didn’t. However, Black Country Communion finds a rare alchemy, the kind of robust, driven energy and cohesive force which makes a rock group amazing, no matter who plays in it, but even more so when the names involved have the kinds of resonance these musicians carry.

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We’ve got Joe Bonamassa – ferocious blues guitar player extraordinaire, Jason Bonham – son of the overwhelming John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame, Glenn Hughes – legendary singer in Deep Purple and last but not least Derek Sherinian – keyboards in Dream Theater and the mighty Planet X project. The “classic rock” crowd outnumber the progressive metal element three to one in this band, at it shows, but that’s what makes the music so meaty, so grounded, feet firmly planted in black, sticky soil, far enough removed from senseless complications and demonstrative, hollow solos. Not since hearing Abandon by Deep Purple have I experienced such a modern form of hard rock, so well polished, so akin to granite in its cold, solid, smooth angles and flows.

Glenn Hughes is the singer and bass player of the band, over sixty years old, and putting many young pups to shame with his tremendous vitality and sheer badassery. I’m seriously amazed at how much energy his voice radiates, at the staggering voltage his playing crackles with. This isn’t a soft, tired album, cleaned up and toned down, like some old rock icons end up issuing in their twilight. This has at least as much bite as any Deep Purple album from the old days. In fact, this super group just goes to show that sometimes a fresh pairing of already legendary musicians can produce material greater than the sum of their previous claims to fame. I’m not saying Black Country Communion can dethrone Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin, perish the thought. But it can sound every bit as menacing and vigorous as the former, with Joe Bonamassa’s furious guitar skills to boost the effort, and every bit as complex and layered, carefully constructed and ingenious as the latter.

I realize now I might be doing this outstanding album a disservice by creating this impression that it’s some sort of shadow of Deep Purple. All I can say is that, personally, I’ve never liked Deep Purple as much as I like this material. The collection of songs we’re dealing with here has greater range, greater fury than any Deep Purple album I’ve heard. There’s a progressive element still in there somewhere, from a compositional standpoint. The songs are more urgent, even though they still feel like rock mastodons crushing all opposition, more animated, I dare say more menacing. There’s a passion behind this music I haven’t heard in a long time, in any genre. Not even overwhelming bands like The Mars Volta, or really talented hard rock outfits like Wolfmother seem to me to even approach this power level, this solidity of the wall of sound and the hammer with which the band pounds it to bits. This kind of cohesion isn’t antiquated, it’s not a nice memory, it is definitely relevant to the point of actually making me confused as to why more outfits don’t try to keep it this simple and this effective.

It’s going to be a pain to pick out two songs from this album. One seems to be more engaging and ferocious than the last, to the point where I can almost choose at random and still be satisfied. In any case, I leave you with Black Country Communion, the best supergroup I’ve heard in a long while, and one of the most straightforward, no-nonsense representatives of the hard rock genre, which seems positively immortal, lit in their smoky, incandescent light. Enjoy!

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