Sound: "Afterglow" is the third studio album from Black Country Communion, a four piece supergroup consisting of acclaimed blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes (BCC's vocalist), Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin's incredible drummer John Bonham, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. In basic summary the recipe for this album was: one true blues-rock band from the early 70's, a cup of obvious influences from the members' experiences, and a pinch of modernity in style and production.
Tone wise, Joe Bonamassa sounds the most modern of the quartet. While he exudes a more advanced style of late 60's blues, it quickly becomes obvious that his style is the latest in the group to bloom on the Rock Timeline. Bonamassa's leads fit the music precisely but I think that he could be a little bit more conservative at times to let the listener let his notes sink in instead of just whizzing by the listener, making it more difficult to pick everything up on the first listen. His use of effects and production suit the feel of the record, but at certain points I wish his leads would cut through the mix a little bit better than they did. He sometimes seemed obstructed by his wah usage in the bass position.
Bonham's drumming is undervalued in this album. What I mean by this is twofold. First, his drumming prowess will appear less to the casual listener because I find it slightly buried in the mix. Second, Black Country Communion undervalues his drumming by putting as deep in the mix as it is, adding to the fact that I believe Bonham purposely held back in certain parts of the record where I really think that he could've been showcased. If Bonham himself made these decisions, I think he miscalculated.
Separately, while Sherinian's keyboard isn't usually center stage, it complements the songs very smoothly.
"Big Train" - The opener for this album is a wakeup call, starting with a typical, powerful machine gun rhythm. The main riff of the song is amazingly simple, yet just as amazingly effective. The chorus features Bonham's cowbell. The whole song is a showcase of Hughes's vocal aptitude and the guitar solo is solid, using wah.
"This Is Your Time" - Bonamassa's main riff in this song has the "I've just entered a bar" attitude you see in movies. The chorus is slightly disappointing at first, following what you might expect from a song of this title; something softer. The guitar solo isn't memorable, but fits the song nevertheless. I really dig Bonham's YYZ-esque cymbal beat at the end of the song.
"Midnight Sun" - The main riff in this song reminds me of the keyboard in "Won't Get Fooled Again." Bonham really shines on this song, adding touch here and there to make the song interesting. Hughes continues on his high power, seemingly high pitch tear. On the second listen through, the song is sticking out more.
"The Confessor" - This song strikes me as easily the best on the album because of its high energy level throughout. Each member including Sherinian has a moment to shine on this song. Bonamassa's speed on this guitar solo doesn't peeve me as much as on other songs because it adds to the high-level intensity of the song. The arpeggiated section is a change and it contributes to the flow significantly. The only flaw with this song is its ending, which is odd considering the way the rest of the song flowed.
"Cry Freedom" - This straight blues has surprisingly the standout vocal performance of the album, with a second member contributing vocals. Bonamassa perfectly personifies the blues the way he knows how, with a great 60's tone and his usage of a slide accompanied by pure blues riffs. Overall, this seems like a Zeppelin type blues.
"Afterglow" - this song starts with a Led Zeppelin imitation of something like "The Rain Song," and "Ten Years Gone". In fact, most of the song sticks to this imitation ideal. The only exception was the chorus riff that appears to be a duplicate of the riff used on "This is Your Time." Because of the imitation factor, I rate this song lowly. On a side note, this song has used the most keyboard so far.
"Dandelion" - The verses of this song feature some interesting guitar layering. The chorus riff is par for the album. The section after the chorus has well placed riffs based on legato slides. The guitar solo, while not overly fast, didn't fit the mood of the song. Bonham, Hughes, and Sherinian don't show anything out of the ordinary on this song. The lack of standout points in this song makes it one of my least favorite.
"The Circle" - the first thing that strikes me is that this is the song where Hughes's voice is so high-pitched that it borders on annoying. The verses utilize a guitar layered with tremolo and delay effects. This is also one of the only songs that includes a riff fueled by power chords. Bonham's drumming is rather laid back on this number and I am undecided as to whether or not this characteristic suited the song. Overall, the song interests me, but it isn't incredibly significant in the grand scheme of things.
"Common Man" - Tasteful blues shines through the verses of this song and then disappears in the chorus replaced in my head with the most memorable vocal chorus of the album. As the song develops, it emerges as an open jam song, highlighting the strengths of each member. Individually, this song displays the talents of each member best.
"The Giver" - For some weird reason, I thought that this was a ballad when I turned it on. The soft verses give way to chorus spearheaded by Bonham's superb drumming. Again, for some weird reason, the lyrics are penetrating into my heart better than the others on this album are. The further this song develops, the more I like it. The guitar solo has the best wah work on the whole album. The end of the song has the rare acoustic guitar.
"Crawl" - the second I turn this song on, the riff immediately personifies a crawl. The riffs flow into each other very well on this song. In the chorus, Sherinian uses his keyboard to institute a unified sound for the other instruments. The jam section includes a battle of Sherinian vs. Bonamassa. For play-by-play, Sherinian jumped out to an early lead and was just able to fend off a tasteful Bonamassa assault near the end that gelled with the song. As the finale of the album, Crawl certainly doesn't disappoint. While as a whole, I think that the songs could have been ordered better, this is the perfect finisher that puts the rubber stamp of success on this album. // 7
Lyrics: Glenn Hughes's piercingly high-pitched vocal performance is one that I have waited on for too long from a recent singer on a blues album. At first, the continued high pitch startled me, but as the album bore on, it grew on me. Hughes meshed well with the overall sound of the album though there were a few exceptions like in "The Circle." His performance comes across on a first look as unique, but the more I look into it, the less unique he seems.
Lyrically, Hughes impressed me in the sense that his lyrics were sensible, varied, and for lack of a better phrase, not cheesy. There was nothing groundbreaking that turned the light bulb in my head on, but the lyrics are solid to say the least, definitely above average. Most of the time, the lyrics were right in line with the music, such as in "Crawl" and "The Giver," but less so in songs like "Dandelion" and "This Is Your Time." // 7
Overall Impression: Overall, this is a blues rocker that deviates fairly little from its course. While this album takes tremendously from the ideas of the artists' other bands, it should be judged on a separate spectrum; this album is very different from any of the albums from the respective artists. This album was firm breath of fresh air from a relatively new band, even though it is a supergroup. I tried to be as critical as possible but in reality, it is a cut above most of the other albums released today in the world of rock and roll.
While the band itself is young, it appears that Black Country Communion's days are numbered. A lack of touring on Bonamassa's part led to Hughes being critical of him, which led to the release of internal frustrations of all types from all band members, excluding Sherinian. While they have said they will keep recording, I am skeptical.
So, if this ends up being the last BCC album, they will have gone out with a bang. This is an exceptional release from an exceptional group of musicians who all individually shine on this album. In terms of the best song, "The Confessor" wins for me with "Crawl" coming in a close second. I should also add that if you are a fan of jam songs, "Common Man" might very well be your favorite. In my opinion, the worst song was "Dandelion" because it lacked standout characteristics that the other songs usually possessed. For the most part, the songs were well distinguished, but certainly nowhere near the level of the all mighty Led Zeppelin.
This album should definitely be on a UG list of best albums from 2012, should a list ever be considered. Moreover, while I only gave it an 8 at its highest point, this album was truly satisfying and you, the UG community, ought to go out and buy this record because the respect owed to these musicians demands that it not be torrented. If the record stolen were from me, I would absolutely buy another copy, these guys have earned it.
- Parker Abt (c) 2012 // 9