Black Country Communion: Afterglow


Frank Zappa called it “putting the eyebrows” on a musical performance: When an artist adds unique touches here and there, tweaks the arrangement to make unexpected turns, or otherwise adds some special flair to a performance that makes the overall sound more expressive and memorable.

Black Country Communion is a hard rock super group whose sound is far more than the sum of its collective chops and they put the “eyebrows” on every track on Afterglow, their fantastic third album. Whoever it was that said “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” hasn’t heard Black Country Communion. Their pedigree alone qualifies them for some kind of exalted status.

Originally assembled by producer Kevin Shirley after arranging a spontaneous jam between guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa and singing bassist Glenn Hughes, this roaring quartet is rounded out by Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham. Ironically it is the guitar world’s excitement over relative newcomer Joe Bonamassa that draws overdue attention to rock veteran Hughes, who’s now enjoying the largest measure of success he’s ever seen over the course of a career that began before Bonamassa was even born. Countless musical trends have come and gone since Glenn Hughes first appeared on the rock scene serving shadowy stints with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but the heavy blues rock sound of the 70’s endures. It is Hughes’ meaty screech that leads the charge on this album of blazing big rock riffs that guitarist Bonamassa compares to the sound of a jet engine.

From the opening strains of “Big Train” all the way through to the album-closer “Crawl”, there’s a slew of mountainous guitar squalls here. Drummer Jason Bonham has been involved in numerous musical projects over the years, but it’s with Black Country Communion where he best serves his legendary father’s legacy of sledgehammer subtleties.

Perhaps it’s no accident that BCC’s closest musical kin is Deep Purple. And one assumes Zeppelin comparisons are inevitable with a Bonham on the drum kit. But it’s the sinister symmetry of growling guitar and clever keyboard colors that fuel this massive motor. Sherinian’s gurgling organ simmers under Bonamassa’s hot lava guitar sludge in “Common Man”. Most likely it is an unintentional irony at play here when Hughes sings about being “better off alone” in the lyrics of a phenomenal ensemble piece that features soaring solos from each member of the group before leaping off into a muscular blues groove heavy on clavinet reminiscent of Zep’s “Trampled Underfoot”. Metallic and melodic, Afterglow is an album that demands to be played at high volume.

2012 should have been a break out year for BCC but instead it devolved into an extended season of bickering and the band’s future now looks cloudy. A big homecoming concert in Hughes’ and Bonham’s black country hometown of Wolverhampton was threatened by Bonnamassa’s refusal to honor the gig when the guitarist chose to turn his focus instead to his solo career. Squabbling between Hughes and Bonnamassa played out in the pages and websites of the rock press. Big egos beget big misunderstandings. But if the singer and guitarist can come to terms, Black Country Communion still has a chance to resume its trajectory as modern day saviors of the classic rock sound. Stay tuned and stay hopeful.

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