Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Country Compilation

For context, read the preface here.

It's a testament to how good this band is that I had a really hard time picking and choosing the best tracks to put on this compilation. Throughout their entire discography - which only spans three studio albums and one incredible live album - there are really very few tracks that feel like filler. The band is consistently firing on all cylinders. It would be extremely pretentious of me to compare this band to Led Zeppelin, but...well, I'll just leave that right there. -_^

Lol, anyway... Joe Bonamassa is on fire in this band, with myriad scorching guitar tracks. (Although, ironically - barring one or two exceptions - I tend to prefer him as lead guitarist to singer/songwriter - that's what his solo career is for!). Glenn Hughes is just an incredible rock singer (slash bassist), and he really brings it to every single track. Jason Bonham lays down a solid rhythm on the drums, with plenty of flair sprinkled over top - he's his father's son, there's no doubt of that. And while the keyboards are tastefully restrained throughout most of this music (too much keyboard can easily water down the sound of a hard rocking band - although considering Glenn Hughes' tenure in Deep Purple, one of the best and hardest rocking bands that featured a virtuoso keyboard player, I'm sure they knew what they were doing), Derek Sherinian adds a welcome rhythmic accompaniment to the rest of the music, and even takes a rare moment to shine here and there. Altogether, these four incredible musicians had a fantastic musical chemistry, and even though the band didn't stick around for long (albeit longer than some bands do - I'm looking at you, Silvertide), they left a fantastic recorded legacy.

Case in point - the trouble I had picking out songs for this compilation. Frequently - and to my surprise - I found myself ousting tracks that I would have thought were shoe-ins, because they feature some of the catchiest choruses (e.g., One Last Soul, Medusa, Man In The Middle, Smokestack Woman, I Can See Your Spirit, Cry Freedom, and the list just goes on). On another person's compilation - or perhaps even an official "greatest hits" package - these tracks might certainly have made the cut. But I opted less for the catchy radio hits, and more for the sort of hard-lined tracks that I feel represent the band at their absolute finest. But if there's a lesson to be learned, it's that this band brought their A game to every single track.

Oh, the incredible guitar solos I had to cut out (I'm looking at you, Common Man)! If you're so inclined, I would absolutely recommend you just go out and buy the band's entire discography - you won't regret it. I want to say that the first album is their strongest, but that might just be because it was my introduction to the band - it made the biggest impression on me, and is probably the one I've listened to the most times. But their second studio album is also fantastic, with a lot more great songs. Their last studio album is slightly less memorable, but it still features some fantastic music. And if you like live albums, you will not be disappointed by this band's. Like all of the best hard rocking bands, these guys were at their finest in a live setting. On the DVD, you can even watch them perform many of their greatest songs, some with extended jams. Don't miss their rendition of The Ballad of John Henry from Joe's solo career (a great choice for this band), and also their rollicking encore of Deep Purple's Burn.

Black Country Compilation (all songs by Black Country Communion)

 1. Black Country             3:15 {1}
 2. The Great Divide          4:45 {1}
 3. Beggarman                 4:51 {1}
 4. Save Me                   7:42 {2}
 5. Little Secret             6:59 {2}
 6. Cold                      6:55 {2}
 7. Midnight Sun              5:17 {3}
 8. The Circle                7:01 {3}
 9. Song of Yesterday (Live)  9:11 {Live}
10. Sista Jane (Live)         7:44 {Live}
11. Too Late For The Sun     11:21 {1}
                (Total Time) 75:01


The first three tracks hail from Black Country Communion's self-titled debut album, released in 2010. I had the most trouble culling tracks from this album (as you'll see, I managed to sneak in a few more later). These three are probably the tip top. The first one, Black Country, opens the album, and is the perfect introduction and mission statement for the band (which was originally just going to be called Black Country, until there was a conflict with another band of that name). "I am a messenger; this is my prophecy: I'm going back - to the black country." The Great Divide is one of their best straight-up hard-rocking tracks. And Beggarman is a fun, catchy song with an incendiary guitar part. You have to love the way it opens with Joe just fooling around on guitar in the studio, and going right into the song. They did a good job duplicating this effect in concert, but it's impossible to copy the serendipity of the original.

The next three tracks hail from BCC's second album, simply titled 2, which was released in the following year. It was a little bit easier to pick out the standout tracks on this album, but that's not to say that the ones that didn't make the cut aren't really good. The ones that did are a little bit slower (but not necessarily any softer) and a little bit longer than the ones we heard from the first album. The lyrical material is also a little bit heavier. Save Me conjures an image of a man on a ledge, just crying out for a reason not to leap. And Cold, as Glenn does a good job of explaining on the live album, is a song about the friends we've lost, that we never had a chance to say goodbye to. I like the way it depicts the profound incredulity of being faced with the stark reality of death. "The sky is falling, now that you're growing old. And I feel I'm dying - how can you be so cold?" The song that's sandwiched between them, Little Secret, is one of Joe's best and bluesiest performances with the band.

We skip over the live album for the moment (with good reason, as you'll see), and jump ahead to BCC's third and final studio album, Afterglow - both of these were released in 2012. While this album isn't as strong as the previous two, it's still a solid album from start to finish, and it was the hardest one for me to pick out the standout tracks. The Circle was the only easy choice. "I'm in the middle of a dream - I just don't know what it means. I am at war with my fear, and I'm lost in the circle again." I wavered between Common Man and Midnight Sun, but while Common Man has an incredible ending guitar solo, I like Midnight Sun as a song overall a little bit better. Plus, it's still got some great guitar parts, and it's also a really great opportunity for Derek Sherinian to show off his keyboards.

The next two tracks come from the live album, Live Over Europe. It's a double album, with a lot of great material, so I really went ascetic on this one. I wanted to limit myself to tracks that could be considered both some of the highlights of the live show, and also songs that benefited from the live atmosphere, and are an improvement over their studio counterparts. In a lot of cases, I preferred the purity of the studio versions. That having been said, the live versions of Save Me and Cold are both fantastic, and I could easily have switched them out for their studio versions here. The ones I picked, however - Song of Yesterday, and Sista Jane - fulfill both of my conditions. Plus, they gave me an excuse to fit a couple more songs from the first album on this compilation.

But don't complain - both songs absolutely deserve to be on this disc - and their live versions are incredible. And they serve still yet another purpose, too - by bringing us back into the mindset of the first album, they pave the way for the closing track, Too Late For The Sun. Along with Little Secret, this is one of the tracks I discovered in creating this compilation that I hadn't realized were so good previously. This is a long, jamming track - when the last verse gives way to the instrumental outro, the song isn't even halfway over yet! - and my favorite choice to close the disc. You might note that this compilation both starts and ends with the opening and closing tracks of the band's first album, but again, that just goes to show. Still, don't let that be an excuse to ignore the rest of this band's output. (I'm sure no two BCC fans would agree on which songs belong on this compilation!).

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