With an aptly titled EP, Black Stone Cherry once again attempts a modern revision of blues staples, searing through another six, widely covered classics. Having tackled Muddy Waters, Albert King and Willie Dixon on 2017’s Black To Blues, the outfit takes aim at new handful of legends, delivering a tight collection of technicolor interpretations of their styles and songs. With their comparatively austere arrangements, the source material is fertile ground for expansion and embellishment; two of the originals feature only guitar and voice.
“Big Legged Woman” immediately introduces two aspects of the album’s tracks that differ from their original versions: Yates McKendree’s omnipresent keys and the throbbing, low-end drive provided by Jon Lawhon (bass) and John Fred Young (drums). Chris Robertson’s indispensable vocal and guitar leads impress, but so do those of Freddie King’s rendition. Whether one prefers the warbly voice and screaming overdrive of Robertson, or the overdriven shout and clipped guitar bursts of King, is largely a matter of personal taste. The qualitative difference between the two versions is the sheer amount of sound filling up the entire soundscape and the prominent piano work and solo.
Eerie kalimba and unsettling wails introduce Robert Johnson’s “Me & The Devil Blues,” the most divergent cover of the set. More than simply filling in the sonic space afforded by the spartan original, Black Stone Cherry reworks the mood by adding clavichord funkiness and a bright, fluid, guitar solo that momentarily leaves the traditional blues pallette for more chromatic phrasing. Repurposing Otis Rush’s solo as an introduction, “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” keeps the haunting reverb soaked feel and shuffling rhythm, but does away with the horns on a louder and fuller retread. A double-time, call and response solo section mimics the original before McKendree reappears with a cool Rhodes piano outro—the highlight of the song.
“Down In The Bottom” faithfully recreates the iconic Howlin’ Wolf rhythm, adding colorful organ accompaniment and a couple of notable instrumental breaks. Concluding with both organ and harmonica solos, the shortest and most direct number of the album packs a lot of sounds into a small space. “Early One Morning” pays homage to the Elmore James slide riff, but quickly splits off into a funky, southern-rock groove dominated by jumpy guitar and rollicking piano. Black Stone Cherry allows some of its signature sound to slip into the mix as the rhythm intensifies and the distortion kicks in. The track is an interesting imagining of what James may have sounded like in a modern blues-rock setting.
The band saves the best for last, emphatically closing with Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.” Drenched in chunky rhythm and great guitar fills, the massively overdriven blues harp differentiates this version from a myriad of other covers. Admittedly, this song—and really Black To Blues Volume 2 as a whole—benefits from excellent choice in source material, and some listeners may hold that against the set. However, that would overlook the instrumental discretion and imaginative structural choices that separate this album from uninspired or heavy-handed attempts at the same. Black Stone Cherry avoids the pitfall of turning sparse originals into ten-minute vanity pieces, while still imbuing enough creativity to produce versions that can stand on their own—for this, they should be commended.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Me & The Devil Blues
– Early One Morning
– Death Letter Blues
The Big Hit
– Death Letter Blues
Review by Willie Witten