Lou and Kevin play some of the best of LRRC 2016 artists and do their year end review. They talk about some of the best rock and metal albums of 2016 as well as raise a glass to the fallen that we lost this year. Featured Loudini Artists: Black Stone Cherry, Gene The Werewolf, Jack Berry
Black Stone Cherry
They say you can't go home again. But Black Stone Cherry proves otherwise on KENTUCKY, the quartet's fifth album and most diverse and mature -- not to mention dynamically exciting -- effort to date.
A decade ago, Black Stone Cherry made its attention-grabbing self-titled debut at David Barrick's Barrick Recording near their hometown of Edmonton, KY. It proclaimed the arrival of a vibrant and exciting new force in Southern rock 'n’ roll, a group that played with fire, sang with brimstone and had plenty of cajones -- what other young band, after all, is willing to take on something as iconic as the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" on its first album?
Flash forward nine years and the BSC crew -- still guitarists Chris Robertson and Ben Wells, bassist Jon Lawhon and drummer John Fred Young -- found themselves back at Barrick, which had relocated and modernized a bit during the intervening years, although its analog mixing board hails from EMI's legendary Abbey Road studios in London. This was hardly the same group of fresh-faced rock nubiles that made the BLACK STONE CHERRY album, either; they'd traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on six continents, written scores more songs and even jousted a bit with the industry. They're family men and homeowners, too -- still rockers to the core but well aware of the "real world" outside the tour bus. So they came into KENTUCKY –- the quartet’s first release for Mascot Records -- more seasoned, battle-savvy and focused, ready to come back home and turn everything they'd learned into a set of ambitious and fearless new music.
"There's all this freedom because it's just us producing it this time," says Robertson. "We're doing it like we did that first one; people still rave about that record, our fans do. But a decade later we're all older, more mature. We all feel like better musicians and songwriters. But even though we're older now it's got a certain element of youth about it that you just can't escape. It's the most interesting album we've done thus far.”
Young adds that, "Man, it was perfect, the experience of getting to record here at home, being with our families, having the opportunity to record with David Barrick again and with all that amazing gear he has. You can never really go back to, 'Oh, I'm 17 again. I don't know how to perfectly tune a guitar or hit the perfect drum lick.' But you can mix some of that into what you are now. We just had a blast and didn't hold anything back.”
Then again, BSC is hardly known for restraint, something anyone who's seen the group blaze through any of its live shows can attest to. The story starts on June 4, 2001, in Edmonton, KY, when Robertson and Young, musical playmates since they were teens, were joined by Wells and Florida transplant Lawhon. Encouraged by musician relatives (Young's dad Richard and uncle Fred are two of the Kentucky HeadHunters), the fledging troupe cut its musical teeth at the Practice House, a 1940s bungalow -- pictured on the cover of KENTUCKY -- that had been relocated to a remote field by Young's grandparents. Used first by the HeadHunters and then BSC - its walls covered with posters, concert tickets and other memorabilia - it was as much of a learning space as the high school the four attended.
"We'd go there and sit and smoke cigarettes and jam on Nirvana and AC/DC, Skynyrd songs and Pantera, try to play Led Zeppelin songs," Young remembers. "It was perfect, man. The closest neighbor was, like, more than a mile away, so we could make as much noise as we wanted, any time we wanted. It was a great way to become a band."
After releasing the independent “Rock N’ Roll Tape” demo, BSC's burgeoning reputation got the group a label deal, and BLACK STONE CHERRY was followed by FOLKLORE AND SUPERSTITION, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA and MAGIC MOUNTAIN, which spawned rock radio favorites such as "Lonely Train," "Blind Man," "White Trash Millionaire" and "Me and Mary Jane." The group's muscular style and homespun attitude connected particularly well overseas, where its last three albums hit No. 1 on the U.K. rock charts – MAGIC MOUNTAIN debuted Top 5 on the U.K. album chart overall - making that the perfect place to film and record the scorching concert souvenir "THANK YOU LIVIN' LIVE, BIRMINGHAM UK OCTOBER 30, 2014.
"For us it's realizing we're a live band -- that's where people are really sold on us and where we cut our teeth," says Wells. "So in writing the riffs and writing the songs for KENTUCKY, we had that in mind. We'd say 'OK, how is this gonna go over live in a festival setting? How is this gonna go over live in a club? Is this what our fans expect?' That was our whole mindset, just to get back to where we were when we first started and 'Let's not overthink this. Let's go in there and make the riffs cool and heavy. Let's just do it.’"
KENTUCKY does it from the get-go, letting loose with the meaty groove of the appropriately named "The Way of the Future," and fellow heavyweights such as "Shakin' My Cage," "Rescue Me," "Hangman" and the metallic "In Our Dreams," which was co-written with Bob Marlette (Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Seether, Saliva). “We wanted to write a song to show the struggle people faced in a situation of disparity, who when presented with danger and chaos could rise above the physical world and escape to another dimension of peace,” explains the band of “In Our Dreams.” The group's rendition of Edwin Starr's Motown classic "War," besides being eerily timely, features a full brass attack from Jonas Butler and Ryan Stiles, while "Soul Machine" shows that BSC knows how to get a deeply funky groove, complete with backing vocals by Sandra Dye and Toynnia Dye. "Long Ride," meanwhile, is a testament of devotion, whose anthemic chorus will have fists pumping into the air whenever the group pulls it out in concert.
"The songs came off more pure and not forced on this album," says Lawhon. "A lot of bands will get very political about things and be like, 'We need this kind of song' or 'We need this batch of songs for this part of our audience' and so on. With us, we just write. Once we feel like we've got the record, that's when we sit back and think about marketing angles and all that. The songs come first and foremost."
The emotional crucible of the album, meanwhile, comes via the wrenching "When Your Heart Breaks Down," a richly melodic co-write with former Shinedown guitarist Jasin Todd that takes stock of some of the costs that come with BSC's chosen life but also offers comfort to those left back home. "It's just about heartbreak and being a true rebel spirit at heart," explains Young. “We all knew the song was special, and when we were in the studio writing it Chris lost his grandpa, and he got pretty emotional when he was putting his vocal on it. It's a really wonderful song.”
BSC is particularly proud that KENTUCKY was not only made at home but also features a corps of hometown players adding their magic to the songs, including Chris Carmichael (strings), Paul Hatchett (organ), Chad Lockhart (vocals), Boone Frogget (vocals), and Andrea Tanaro (vocals). "This album IS Kentucky," Robertson says with palpably fierce pride. "Everyone who plays on it is from Kentucky. It's in their blood just like it's in ours, and they added so much to the record."
KENTUCKY will, of course, send BSC away from Kentucky and back to its second home on the road, with a fresh batch of songs Lawhon notes, "were meant to be played live." And it's key to remember that it's the same four guys playing it now as it was in Edmonton, when they were wet behind the ears and ready to put on some miles.
"It's cool we've been able to be the same four guys just doing it, putting out albums. You don't see that many bands who are the same members after all these years," says Wells. "We're friends first, and from the beginning it's always been four equals. That's what's kept us together. We're all in it, all on the team. It takes four of us to lead the band, not just one." And, Robertson adds, everyone in BSC shares the same credo.
"Music is life, life is music," he says. "It's faith, family and music. Those are the things that are quintessential for my life -- for all our lives."
Gene the Werewolf has never paid attention to trends. Nor has the Pittsburgh-based quintet been part of a scene or the hipster's band of choice. They are iconoclasts by virtue of their music, rock 'n' roll survivors in thrall to the genre's power and
energy. And they're damn good at it, even if they are a dying breed. "It's strange to feel like you are one of the last of your own kind," says Gene, the band's dynamic frontman and lead singer. Thus, "The Loner," Gene the Werewolf's third studio album.
The band, formed in 2007, is comprised of 5 native Pittsburghers. With self-released albums "Light Me
Up" and "Wicked Love" under their belts, as well as 2012's worldwide release of
"Rock 'n' Roll Animal" on Frontiers Records, the band is ready to deliver their knockout blow with "The Loner". In a perfect world it's music that should be blasting on car radios from Asbury Park to Hermosa Beach, on jukeboxes in dives and biker bars. Posters of the hirsute Gene and his band mates--guitarist Drew Donegan, bassist Tim Schultz, drummer Nick Revak and keyboard player Aaron Mediate--should be on the walls of kids from Seattle to South Beach. Put
Gene the Werewolf on stage at the Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip or The Troubadour in West Hollywood in 1989, and they'd kill. But times have changed.These guys don't have access to a time machine. The next best thing is an album like
"The Loner" that takes you to those halcyon days when rock 'n' roll was hip and cool and fearless. If you yearn for rock music that echoes Motley Crue, Alice Cooper and Guns 'N Roses, with dashes of Whitesnake and Winger in the mix, "The Loner" deserves your attention.
The album features 10 tracks of uniformly excellent quality. In a musical climate dominated by drip-feeding content, single-by-single, the band still takes great pride in making a conventional album. "We wrote and demoed close to 25 songs for the album, so there was a lot of variety and unique ideas being kicked around," Gene
says. Those ideas were fleshed out at Red Medicine Studios in Pittsburgh, where producer Sean McDonald has become one of Western Pennsylvania's most respected musical alchemists. Having worked with The Clarks, Jim Donovan
(formerly of Rusted Root) and many other of the best musicians in Pittsburgh,
McDonald helped the band reach its full potential. "It seems a cliche to say this, but Sean really was a sixth member of the band." Donegan says. "He worked as a songwriter, engineer and producer, elevating our craft to levels we didn't think were possible."
There are no duds on "The Loner." The first song, "The Walking Dead," is Gene's take
on a zombie apocalypse and features two dazzling guitar solos by Pittsburgh native Reb Beach, who currently performs with Whitesnake and Winger. The final track, "The Best I Can" showcases the honky-tonk piano of Randy Baumann of WDVE-FM and slide guitar by The Clarks' guitar maestro, Rob James. Sandwiched in between
are eight songs that will satisfy the most discriminating rock 'n' roll fan. And then there's Gene himself, who is merely the best rock 'n' roll singer too many people have never heard. He sings, he wails, he screams, he hits notes that haven't been
reached since Vince Neil was a pup. In a perfect world, he'd be a star, as would the band. But we all know the musical world is a fragile, fragmented and damaged place where stars are manufactured, not earned. Not that Gene the Werewolf cares about stardom. Give them a stage, let them play. That's all they want to do.
Nashville-based alt/blues rocker, Jack Berry, premieres his first single, “The Bull,” via Consequence of Sound from his forthcoming LP, Mean Machine, set for a Spring 2016 release. Berry’s gritty rock sound has garnered
acclaim from Blues Rock Review (Top 10 Artists to Watch in 2013, #2 album of 2013) and The Deli
Magazine (Top Ten Nashville Artists to Watch, 2015). His song, “Kiss Like,” will also be featured on the
sixth season premiere of the Showtime series, Shameless.
Originally from Reno, Nevada, Berry created his first album for a school project while studying in Los
Angeles. After performing along the West Coast in a duo, Berry decided that he was meant for a career
in music and relocated to Nashville. After several months of sleeping on a couch and working to catch
the attention of the local press, Berry’s “ample supply of good hooks and riffs” (Nashville Scene)
eventually gained the praise of critics throughout Nashville and beyond, earning him spots at well-
known festivals, including North by Northeast in Toronto, New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon and
SXSW’s Red Gorilla Festival.
Since then, Berry has logged dozens of shows from Nashville to New York City. He most recently
appeared at No Country For New Nashville’s December showcase in 2015 and earned the runner-up
spot in Hard Rock Rising’s Battle of the Bands. Mean Machine is poised to serve as Jack Berry’s
breakthrough record, so be sure to stay tuned to the Reno-native’s every move!