Building on the strong Southern rock of their last album, Folklore and Superstition
, Black Stone Cherry
return with the confident Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea
. While some unfortunately generic tunes mar the record’s overall impact, the Kentucky quartet’s third disc boasts a winning eclecticism, stretching from melodic ballads to radio-friendly numbers that recall primo ‘70s classic rock acts.
Make Way for the Populists
Led by frontman Chris Robertson, Black Stone Cherry have made their career marrying universal themes about love and family to Southern-flavored rock. Their latest disc may not have as many superb moments as 2008’s Folklore and Superstition
, but it shows that the band remain several notches above their hard-rock competition -- both in their musical skill and lyrical depth. Much like Born Free
, the 2010 album from Kid Rock
, Between the Devil
is very much positioned as an album for the common man, starting off with the proudly just-an-average-guy sentiments of “White Trash Millionaire,” where Robertson boasts that he’s not some hoity-toity rich guy. You could accuse the band of pandering, but there’s no questioning the sincerity of Robertson’s populism.
Fresh Takes on Familiar Ideas
The best of Between the Devil
takes familiar lyrical tropes and invests them with fresh energy and new ideas. “In My Blood” could be a modern updating of Lynyrd Skynyrd
’s “Free Bird,” except here Robertson expands on the original song’s theme of leaving behind a lover for the freedom of the open road. Riding a sturdy mid-tempo melody, Robertson acknowledges that he hates to be alone but that he simply can’t help himself from moving on to the next destination. Consequently, “In My Blood” is a more despairing and emotional look at the typical life-on-the-road rock song. As for the album closer, “All I’m Dreamin’ Of,” he laments the usual laundry list of woes: “Too much anger and too much pain/Too much money and too many lies.” The song’s hopeful vibe imagines a tomorrow where people are kind to one another, and while it’s a clichéd sentiment, the stripped-down, country-ish track is touching and understated in its simplicity.
Sometimes, those populist overtones don’t work, though. “Such a Shame” is a song about a stripper who ends up dead, and while Robertson wants the track to condemn how wayward young women can be taken advantage of, the aggressive, guitar-heavy arrangement isn’t that much different than the stripper-rock that celebrates such behavior. (Along the same lines, “Let Me See You Shake,” about a sexy woman on the dance floor, feels not just perfunctory but the sort of boneheaded rock song they’re too smart to write.) Likewise, “Blame It on the Boom Boom” is Robertson’s attempt to deliver a cocksure sex song, but the forced swagger makes for an awkward listening experience. Even when Between the Devil settles for formula, Black Stone Cherry nicely meld roadhouse muscle with arena-sized chops. But that only makes it more disappointing when the songs don’t rise to the level of the musicianship.
With Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea
, it’s pretty clear that Black Stone Cherry aren’t attempting a crossover move any time soon. Representing for old-school Southern rock, most notably on a strong cover of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See,” these 12 tracks largely reject commercial rock radio. But that doesn’t mean Between the Devil
isn’t a consistently propulsive collection of sing-along songs. Though they pledge allegiance to the tried-and-true, Black Stone Cherry do it with impressive flair.
'Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea' – Best Tracks:
“In My Blood” (Purchase/Download
“Can’t You See” (Purchase/Download
“All I’m Dreamin’ Of” (Purchase/Download
“Won’t Let Go” (Purchase/Download
Release date – May 31, 2011
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.