Black Country Communion’s Afterglow
Soap opera drama aside, it’s quite obvious from the eleven jams on Afterglow that something is amiss with the band’s world-beating sound. Don’t get me wrong – Hughes and Bonamassa, drummer Jason Bonham, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian, along with producer and unofficial “fifth man” Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, are still one of the biggest-sounding, blustery, and bad-ass outfits on the rock ‘n’ roll highway today. But Hughes shouldered the lion’s share of the songwriting chores for this go-around while Bonamassa was traveling, and it shows in the final product. While Hughes may be an accomplished and skilled wordsmith in his own right, what made BCC so special in the first place was the creative tension between Hughes’ hard rock, soul, and funk tendencies and Bonamassa’s blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll fretburning.
As a result, Afterglow finds the material a slight bit fatigued, down a notch, perhaps, from the first two ground-breaking, earth-shaking albums. Not that you could tell from the all-in, full-blast instrumental assault here, BCC still delivering hurricane-strength thrills and chills for the listener who appreciates 1970s-era Sturm und Drang. There’s always been an air of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin in the BCC sound, mainly through Bonamassa’s wiry fretwork and Bonham’s propulsive percussion and Afterglow offers up plenty of the musical chemistry that made the outfit special in the first place, songs like “Big Train,” with its staccato rhythmic intro and subsequent fluid groove atop which Hughes’ vocals soar godlike astride Bonamassa’s subtle six-string flourishes and Sherinian’s underlying keyboards. “Confessor” neatly ties a bow on a the classic rock decade, evoking memories of Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Scorpions, and even a bit of former Hughes bandmate David Coverdale’s Whitesnake.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
The lone Bonamassa vocal here, on the growling, howling “Cry Freedom,” mixes up some taut, Joe Walsh-styled guitar-wrangling (more James Gang than solo) with a measure of six-string stomp ‘n’ stammer reminiscent of Dust Bowl, while the album-closing “Crawl” is a sly bit of Zeppelinesque blues-funk with larger-than-life instrumentation and an overall impact like a sledge hammer to your medulla oblongata. Overall, with Afterglow, Black Country Communion delivers almost everything you could want from the band on a silver platter. Considering their haste at music-making and the fractured pace of the individual members’ careers, however, maybe they should take 2013 off and come raging back in 2014 with new fire and commitment (and Joe, take a day off every now and then, will ya?!). Grade: B (J&R Adventures, released October 30, 2012)