Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Black Stone Cherry- Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea [album review]

Preface: If you are looking for a legit, straightforward album review, you're not going to find it here. This is destined from the beginning to be full of my [slightly biased] voice. It is an effort to honestly review the album as a mature and adult music blogger with actual journalistic standards, but that review is at times sandwiched between childish, irrelevant emotion.

Before you read, it is important to know the derivation of my emotions. It can be summed up pretty simply: I'm a jealous bitch. The boys of Black Stone Cherry are from around the same area that I'm from, and they started playing out at around the same time that "my" crew of musical boys did. The similarities end there, though.  BSC went on to blow up all over the freakin' globe, while my boys ended their first band, started another, and are still basically no where. Hence, every time I hear BSC on the radio or see some of my favorite bands becoming bestest friends with them, my blood pressure spikes as jealous Kelli goes all Hulk and turns green with envy.     

I am fully aware that my hatred is silly and basically senseless. It is no fault of BSC's that things happened the way they did. They were simply more focused on their goal way sooner, and much more serious in their pursuit. Maybe they did have more than a little help from certain family connections to get them to where they are now, which has been a major point of contention for me against them. But, if I have learned anything from my 23 years on this Earth (and most specifically from the great Brent Smith in the Shinedown song, "Shed Some Light") it's this: "I know now, it's not who you are, it's who you know." I can't even lie for a second and say that if the situations were reversed that I would feel badly using those connections. Getting your music heard by the right people is key to getting anywhere, and if there is an expedited way to do that, you'd be a nothing more than a fool not to take advantage of it.

So, I apologize from the beginning and ask you to please be patient when the jealous Kelli-Hulk comes out.


Hello, my name is Kelli, and I have a confession.....I bought the new Black Stone Cherry album, Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea. 
If you know me at all, then you're aware of the shame I feel as I write those words. You will also know that as I type this next sentence, each keystroke burns my fingertips like a flame and leaves my mouth with a bitter taste like I have never known: Not only did I buy the album, but.........I actually kinda like it. In order to try to overcome my shame, I feel the best remedy is to just get it all out there and explain myself. Here is my attempt at doing that.   

I don't know what led me to buy the album in the first place, when I knew full and well that the purchase would lead only intense feelings that no band other than BSC can cause me to feel. Jealousy and anger, as well as a few tears, were not just likely, they were basically inevitable. I didn't want to like it and feel happy that I purchased it- I wanted it to be terrible, something I listened to and then threw in the floor and laughed at each time my cat decided to use it as a hockey puck.  In my head I likened it to voting: If I didn't put out the effort (and $6.35 of my hard earned dollars) to buy it and give it a real chance, I had no right to complain about it or say that it was bad.  So, I printed off my emailed coupon from Roadrunner (which led to the use of a few expletives when I opened the email, because it removed the "it's too much to pay for something i don't even want to buy" excuse), made my voyage to Best Buy, bought the cd (which actually opened easily, without the fight that the plastic wrap and stickers usually put up, dammit) and stuck it in my car's cd player. I braced myself for whatever came next.

Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea begins with the first single released from the album, "White Trash Millionaire," a song that I admit (through gritted teeth as I kick myself repeatedly) I liked from the first time I heard it on the radio. It's catchy as hell and gets stuck in your head, where it plays on repeat all day. The song has a swampy, dirty southern rock groove, really accentuated by the thick guitars and the low, country growl of the vocals.     

This song emanates a new and very different side of the Edmonton, Kentucky-based band of good ol' boys, It would seem that BSC has lost their innocence somewhere on the road and turned into bad-asses (or are at least writing songs like they have). Instead of the fairly wholesome image that they have projected in the past, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea could lead a listener to believe that the once good boys are now pot-smoking, sex-having, white trash millionaires. {Disclaimer: I actually have no idea if that's true or not. Please, don't sue me for libel. I'm a poor college kid and you wouldn't get much money anyway.} The songs do lead thoughts in that direction, though. I mean, really, by singer Chris Robertson telling you he has "two Zig Zags," what do you really think he is trying to share with you? It could just be a simple, homemade cigarette, filled with plain old tobacco, you say. Well, the the song goes on to talk about how "on the couch on the front porch we're all smoking left-handed cigarettes." To the unknowing and pure of mind, such as myself, there could still be innocence in this. Until you Google the phrase, and find the truth. According to a very reliable source, (aka Urban Dictionary) "A left handed cigarette is marijuana" - There's no ambiguity in that statement. Roll that up that in your Zig Zag and smoke it. 

And I don't even want to get started on the unwholesome content of the even catchier (my legs are starting to get really tired from the repeated kicking of myself when I admit this crap) "Blame It On the Boom Boom." There's no doubt what the song is eluding to; it's obviously about the topic of doing the dirty. (First drugs, and now sex, too?! On an album by Black Stone Cherry!? My mind is about to explode.) This is not how the band's previous albums or interviews have portrayed them. It's not that I care to listen to songs about those topics, and these two songs are no exception. They are actually really, really good (ugh!) and no departure from the age-old drugs, sex, and rock n' roll mentality. It's just a little difficult dealing with the fact that the image I feel I've been fed in the past has been shattered. And maybe also because I am having a hard time accepting that the album is really fucking good...   

My favorite song on Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by far, is "Killing Floor." It's much harder and darker than their other songs.  It's got a sound that is really different from what they've put out in the past, but it has such a radio friendly modern rock quality that, if it is released as a single, will be one of their biggest hits and reach a whole new pool of listeners. It pulls away from their southern side with this straight-up rock song, proving that BSC has too much dimension and range to be plugged into just one corner of the genre. 

"Like I Roll" comes in a close second as a top song on the album, though it is a jump completely across the musical spectrum from the heavy "Killing Floor." "Like I Roll" is a slightly poppy anthem, sounding like the audible complement to the picture of someone escaping whatever demons are chasing them, driving through the desert in an old convertible with the top down, letting their problems fly away behind them into a cloud of dust. It is in this song that Robertson sings some of the most clever lines I've heard in a long time. The most striking lyric comes when the last chorus changes slightly to say, "I roll through the hills of my ole Kentucky home, back to the place where my heart belongs." It is such a simple line, yet in the context of the song it is so powerful that it's almost genius.

i found this video that someone made for "Like I Roll" and
thought it was interesting that the someone else envisioned
 the song in almost the same way i did.  

Before you think I've been completely brainwashed or that I've sold my soul to the devil, I'll  say that I don't love every song on the album. "Won't Let Go" is just a little too corny and the lyrics are just too easy, for lack of a better term.  When it says "I wonder where we'll be when we're 33" I'm instantly irritated, just like I get when it says "We'll always be together, no matter what the weather."  It's a let down when so many of the other songs have lyrics that are smart and adeptly written. "Let Me See You Shake" makes me feel the same way. Don't dumb it down for the listeners, especially after you prove that you can do better elsewhere on the album. Musically, the songs aren't bad, but just not strong enough to redeem them. 
Overall, when it comes to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, I have to say I'm disappointed...disappointed in the fact that I actually like most of the songs. As much as I hate to admit it, this is a solid album that will probably rocket the band to new heights of fame. And honestly, they deserve it. They are some of the most genuinely nice guys that you'll ever meet. They're putting south-central Kentucky's rock scene on the map, and that can only help other bands from the area, not hurt them. Though I'll probably never be able to completely transcend my angry streak of envy when it comes to Black Stone Cherry, even as ludicrous as I know it is, an album as strong as this one forces me to recognize their talent and respect them as songwriters and musicians. At the end of the day, even I'm not too bitter and jealous to admit that.

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