Showing posts with label Black Stone Cherry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black Stone Cherry. Show all posts

Nov 2, 2021

Album Review / The Kentucky Headhunters / …That’s a Fact, Jack

By Bobby Peacock

I honestly did not expect to be reviewing a Kentucky Headhunters album in 2021. Usually by the time rockers hit their 60s, they mellow out, phone it in, retire, or die. Not so with the Headhunters, who continue to find new ways to keep their Southern rock stylings fresh after all this time with …That’s a Fact, Jack.

What strikes me the most about this album is the variety of moods. Songs like "Gonna Be Alright,” "Watercolors in the Rain,” and the title track have various degrees of gloom to them, but all three times the gloom is lightened by a message that it's not too late. Even if it's raining in your town, the sun is still shining somewhere, promises the first of these three; "Watercolors in the Rain" emphasizes the desire to leave a good example for those who follow, and "That's a Fact Jack" offers a message to cross sociopolitical boundaries in favor of unity. The Headhunters haven't historically been the types to get topical (the excellent "Crazy Jim" off the last album being a noteworthy exception), but their execution is both poetic and hopeful.

"Watercolors" in particular pops with a softer than usual vocal turn from Richard, combined with an entire verse accompanied by just bass and finger snaps. This is all the more surprising in contrast to his harder-edged snarl on "That's a Fact Jack,” extremely well-suited to lines like "Since man has walked on this earth / Greed has held his hand.” I could easily see this song slipping into a Sturgill Simpson album.

Richard Young's son, John Fred, brings in his bandmates in Black Stone Cherry to add a more modern songwriting edge to "How Could I.” While the lyrics look simple on paper, the turns of phrase and derivations from verse-chorus structure pop out of the contemporary cadence in telling of a guy who messed things up and wants his relationship back to the way it was. The fact that the song has a lively groove inspired by "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" doesn't hurt, either.

"Susannah" almost seems like a shout-out to the Tom Wopat song of the same name in its subject matter of a traveling man and his lonely wife. Unlike that song, this one gives us more detail about how they met, and about what keeps the man on the road (his love of music). It's a great little character sketch the kind of which has been missing from country for so long. Also on the more conventionally country-rock side is "We Belong Together.” Greg Martin skillfully uses some iv chords, always a favorite of mine, to lead us into this understated little winner. Sometimes a good thing works out despite the differences in ingredients -- the rebellious man and the wise woman being a common example. I especially like the line "Never make me believe this is wrong.

That song finds Doug expanding his range with some well-placed falsetto, which returns for good measure on "Lonely Too Long.” From the title, it's not hard to tell what it's about (finding the perfect soulmate), and the lyrics are the least original on this set ("climb any mountain / swim the deep blue sea"). But there's no denying this song's groove. "Heart and Soul" moves back to the rockabilly side of things with a great four on the floor beat and no shortage of guitar. The lyrical content is more nuanced than you'd expect: the narrator's had an argument with his wife and is embarrassed because everyone knows... and worse, he knows that it was all over nothing but a passing glance at an ex. (As Clay Walker said, "I ain't saying that lookin's a crime.”)

For the first time since "Dry Land Fish,” drummer Fred Young gets to sing too. "Cup of Tea" has a chill and quirky vibe that brings to mind Jimmy Buffett. Its use of Cockney rhyming slang ("what's the lemon and lime") is extremely inspired in its description of that perfect woman. Let me say that again: a Southern rock-Buffett hybrid with Cockney rhyming slang. I told you these guys haven't run out of ideas. He returns to give a spacey blues-rock read of "Cheap Tequila.” Now, covering a song that's been done by such legends as Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter is a high bar to clear, but their take on this well-worn yet well-aged tale of "wash[ing] yourself away" shows that they're far from out of ideas when it comes to dusting off cover songs, either.

Next is "Shotgun Effie.” They originally cut this back in the 1970s when they were known as Itchy Brother. It's also the first time we get to hear Greg on lead vocals since then, and I'm surprised he didn't get a crack sooner. He's got a nicely rough-edged shout well-suited for a simple but effective look at a feisty woman (the Youngs' grandmother, in fact). Between that greasy slide guitar and the driving tempo, there's little change from the original 1974 cut -- but it's such a winner that almost nothing needed to be changed.

With just about anyone else, closing with a novelty song about a family fighting at Christmastime would be a tired old joke at best, and trolling at worst. But lyrics like "You know it wouldn't be Christmas without black eyes /  There's too many cooks in the kitchen / And too many kinfolks bitchin’,” combined with the laid-back and self-deprecating tone, make it a winner. This seems like a family that takes its brawls in stride, and perhaps there's a deeper message to that. We can't get along all of the time, but if we can roll with the punches and enjoy ourselves regardless, then what's wrong with that?

I've followed the Headhunters long enough to gain an ever-growing respect for their consistently high quality. Because they've been together for so long, they know how to make their sounds and influences work together. Even better, they still manage to do it in a way that yields new and interesting results on every subsequent album, and they still sound as energetic as they did on Pickin' on Nashville. The fact that so many songs on this album made me say "Huh, I've never heard them do that before" is a testament to their seemingly undying talent and passion.

I used star ratings back when I still wrote for Roughstock, so I'll do the same here. This one gets a full 5/5.

May 10, 2012

Beale Street Music Festival 2012: A Wrap-Up

Living in the deep south and not having pockets quite deep enough to go to Jazzfest in New Orleans or Hangout on the coast, Beale Street Music Festival is the only festival I can frequently attend, so I make a point of going as much as possible. This year, I missed Friday due to needing to work, but was still able to make it to Memphis for 2 hot, fun days of music. The crowd was down a little this year probably because the headliners weren't quite as big as usual, but you still can't get this much entertainment for $75 anywhere else. And as hot as it was, the weather was wonderful, considering it didn't rain for the first time in like, ever. Here's a rundown of who I saw at the festival.

John Hiatt - We caught a few songs from Hiatt before heading over to Drew Holcomb. Sounded good. Other than his biggest "hits," I've never been a huge Hiatt fan, so I didn't feel guilty for cutting out.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors - Probably would be megastars if they changed their genre from pop-rock to "country"…way more interesting guy/girl duo at the lead than Sugarland possesses. Warm, melodious set full of great hooks and killer vocals.

Son Volt
Son Volt - What you'd expect from Jay Farrar, as far as stage presence, but the band sounded GREAT. Jay's vocals were excellent too. You know what you're getting with a Son Volt show, but there's nothing wrong with being all about the music. Finally got to hear my favorite song, "Windfall" in concert.

Childish Gambino - Culture and genre shock going from Son Volt to Donald Glover's rap alter-ego. Despite counting myself at least a moderate hip-hop fan, this was my first rap concert. The bass felt and sounded amazing. Childish Gambino was out to prove his rap cred and he did so. It got a bit tiresome midway, with no conversation breaks (guess I was hoping he'd do a little comedy routine in the middle or something), but he's a strong performer who never got winded and proved himself a true hip-hop artist, not just an actor doing a side gig for fun. Huge crowd for this set.

The Cult - I'd heard bad things about Ian Astbury and the boys live beforehand, but they were solid. They rocked pretty hard - some of their newer songs were very punk sounding, much less arena rock than the songs that made them (semi) famous. Ian was pretty engaging and though he didn't try particularly hard, they put on a good show.

Sundown on the Mississippi
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Hell of a show. Grace is a thoroughly engaging performer and her vocals were top notch. She also played nearly every instrument on the stage over the course of the show. Her band is tight as a drum too. Go see 'em if you get a chance. Not an ounce of disappointment from this one. Another big crowd for this set.

Jane's Addiction - Tired old man syndrome kicked in just before this set, so we only made it halfway through. Hey, gimme a break… I'm over 35, it was 90+ degrees most of the day and I'm a desk jockey. Jane's Addiction's set was much more lavish than earlier performers. They had digital screens, crazy lights and people hanging from circus swings. Perry Farrell was a great showman and the band seemed very much a well-oiled machine, despite the sound not being that great. I heard my favorite tune  ("Mountain Song") and their biggest hit ("Been Caught Stealing") so I didn't feel too bad calling it a night.

Old 97s - Awesome show. Best sounding band of the weekend, for my money (of course Union Station is surely "better" but I'm more roots rock than bluegrass oriented). Rhett Miller was friendly and his voice was great as the band played all their better known songs ("Big Brown Eyes," "Question," "Barrier Reef" etc) along with some from recent albums ("I'm a Trainwreck" "Every Night is Friday Night"). Perfect set.

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood - I prefer Robinson's harder rocking Black Crowes work, but his folksier side is also worth seeing live. Tight band, strong performance from Chris. A little jammier than I prefer, but I'd rather see them than say, Phish, any day.

Black Stone Cherry - We got our hard rock fix in at this show. Hottest freaking show of the weekend…. it was 93 and we couldn't squeeze up into the shade of the overhang, but we toughed it out with some adult beverages. Black Stone Cherry rocks hard; the guitarist seems straight out of some 80s hair metal band and he was the 2nd most energetic performer I saw this weekend, running around the stage nearly the entire set. BSC's vocalist is a treat to behold live - soulful and unique. These southern hard rockers played their biggest hits like "Blind Man," "White Trash Milllionaire" and "Like I Roll" along with a few cool covers like Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way." Very talented band. The drummer was nuts, all afro'd out and a blaze of arms and fingers - he once threw a stick at a stagehand mid-song… and never missed a beat.

Michael Franti
Michael Franti and Spearhead - Far and away the best show of the weekend. While the focus was more on love and fun than music, the band didn't slack at all, and Franti is surely one of the greatest live performers working the circuit right now. He spent a good third of the show out in the crowd, all 6'6' of him, singing, playing guitar, slapping hands and spreading love. I've read in previous concert reviews that this is their usual show protocol, but it didn't come off anywhere near "going through the motions." The atmosphere was sincere, warm and vibrant. They opened the show with "Everyone Deserves Music" and went on to make me think everyone deserves to see Spearhead live. Much like the Beastie Boys, Spearhead just has this vibe and broad appeal that's so contagious, I can't imagine anyone hating them. Other songs they played included "The Sound of Sunshine," "Say Hey (I Love You)" and "I Know I'm Not Alone." Despite the overwhelmingly positive bent of the performance, it never felt cheesy or awkward. This is a band with "it," whatever "it" is. Beach balls, cute kids on stage and other cute kids leading chants from the audience… the gruffest and most cynical individuals among us couldn't help but smile the whole show. Franti's a liberal, but I'm pretty sure you could get Congress in a Spearhead show and they'd agree on nearly everything by the last song. I don't care if you're not into reggae-influenced dancehall pop rock, if Michael Franti and Spearhead do a show close to you, be there.

The Civil Wars - As talented as you've heard. As boring as you may suspect. They were cute and cuddly and sounded great, but unless they pump up the volume a little in the future, I don't see them maintaining their level of popularity.  "Poison and Wine" was the highlight for me.  Huge crowd for them.

Alison Krauss and Union Station - Call it heresy, but we only stuck around for about 5 songs before moving on to Robert Randolph. I do want to hear a full show from AK at some point, but we were more in the mood for some bluesy slide guitar on this night. Alison sounds as good, no better, than you've heard. I swooned. The band was of course, untouchable.

Robert Randolph & the FB
Robert Randolph and the Family Band - Excellent, loud, supremely talented. Great show in the blues tent. How did this guy not get a full stage? Anyway, awesome set. Cool lights. I was tired so I don't remember a great deal more, but it was a nice end to a hot, fun weekend.


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