Black Stone Cherry
‘The Human Condition’
EDITOR’S NOTE: It has taken me almost three months to write this review. Stuff happens, but I’m very excited to share my thoughts on #BSC7. I wanted to be as in depth as I could, and I wanted to take my time and FEEL each song as I listened to them.
If you remember I’ve written about Black Stone Cherry before….. There were my reviews of their third and fourth albums, and then my review of their sixth album, plus when Karen and I got to see them live in 2018. You can check out my review of Family Tree HERE, and the Concert write up HERE! Plus the GCR/Music Talks episode I did with Terry Smith, listen to that HERE!
“We are a Destroy Your Ass Live Band is what we are.” – John Fred Young Black Stone Cherry
He’s not wrong at all. As I mentioned above Karen and I got to see BSC live in 2018, and they blew the roof off the place. I feel the best way to review this new album is…
TRACK BY TRACK:
After the high I had from the Family Tree Album, BSC’s version of the NEW PBR anthem “Be Cowboy“, and them forming The Cherry Truck Band, with Monster Truck, in order to create “Love Becomes Law“, I wasn’t sure what #BSC7 was gonna bring to my enjoyment of these southern rockers. Heck I wasn’t even sure that we were gonna get a new Black Stone Cherry album in 2020, but we did. Even with the pandemic hitting the entire Earth, these guys have given us an album that not only gives us hope, it brings us both sides of the Black Stone Cherry coin. Those two sides are the hard and heaviness that BSC started with on the self titled album, and Folklore and Superstition and then the constant crooning of the ballads that they craft. Chris Robertson just had vocal surgery before beginning to work on this album, and he’s never sounded better. Between both Chris and “Bouncin” Ben Wells’s guitar riffs we have kick ass instrumentals on every track, Jon Lawhon’s badass bass guitar brings that extra oompf to Chris and Ben’s electric rhythms, and John Fred Young Destroys the drumbeats on every song. A true concoction of everything you love in the instrumentals, and then even more with the lyrics that they come up with. Every song on this album is about something or means something, that’s how I’ve heard the guys talk about ‘The Human Condition’.
Ringin’ In My Head
Every album needs a leadoff track that says, “HEY YOU, YES YOU… HERE WE ARE!!!” BSC did it with Bad Habit on ‘Family Tree’, and “Ringin’ In My Head” being the front man of ‘The Human Condition’ was the kick in the ass your ears need, in order to prepare yourself for this album. That undertone in the beginning of the song… damn I love that. It gives you a solid groove through the track and the lyrics that are being sung. With lyrics like:
“Brother, brother, could you lend a hand?
I’m in a prison in my own land
Enlist resistance with a peaceful heart
Can’t let these times tear us all apart”
It’s like these guys knew just what to say when it needed to be said. When I first saw the name of this track, my first thought went to right before I had brain surgery last year. I constantly had a ringin’ in my head, but it wasn’t a good one. When I listen to this track, it feels like it speaks to me on a personal level, as well as in a face the world kinda level.
As “Ringin'” ends, and ‘Again’ begins, it’s a smooth transition of tracks. Sometimes when an album is being listened to the track transitions don’t fit each other, these absolutely are a masterpiece of how the band and their engineer Jordan Westfall assembled the track list order. “Again” was the first single, this showed us exactly where Black Stone Cherry was going with their seventh album. The opening drumbeats bring you into the BSC “tribe”, and the drums in my mind drive the entire track. Sometimes when you get attached to a band, and so immensely engrossed in their work, you often wonder how can they top the previous album? Well as the band members have said in multiple interviews over the last three to four years, each album is a snapshot of the times in which that album was made. The guitar playing on this track is also stellar, the solo work as the drums fade, the guitars pick up. Normally lead singers sing, but there are those that can play guitar and sing, Chris Robertson is one of those. Ben Wells as I refer to him now as “Bouncin” Ben Wells… his guitar work on this is amazing. Jon Lawhon’s bass line is drawn in the sand here, and you can choose which line to follow, it’s amazing how each of the instruments individually adds so much to the whole of the song. ‘Again’ is a track about hope, it’s about never giving up, in my eyes I see it as the phoenix rising. With lyrics like:
“Every time we die
We come back to life
I’ll see you again
With wings from the fire
We fly even higher
And do it again”
This part of the chorus makes me think of my Mom, and it’s the first song to do that since Whiz Kalifa’s ‘See You Again‘. Rising together again and again is a great message in the trying times that we face right now.
Push Down and Turn
‘Push Down & Turn’ the third track tells a story about prescription drug usage. (At least that’s what I thought at first) I thought I knew exactly where this song was coming from, yet I read through an interview that Chris Robertson did back in October 2020, and he talks about the song being all about mental health, and how you deal with it. You can read that interview from Rock & Blues Muse HERE. As far as my own physical and mental health I’ve always never taken more than prescribed or needed, however a week before my brain surgery in 2019, I took 15 ibuprofen 600mg pills….. ONLY because I couldn’t get the pain to stop. I took these pills over an eight hour period. I couldn’t get my headaches to subside, this was the catalyst to me having my head examined. It turns out I had Hydrocephalus, basically excess fluid on my brain. I try to block everything out, and power on through stuff in order to get it done, and yet there are times where I just need an ear to listen to my ramblings. Luckily I have Karen now, and she listens all the time. ‘Push Down & Turn’ is a track that grows on me every time I hear it, and the way the rest of the guys play the instruments on this, is just hard hitting hard rock, with a slight southern flair. With lyrics like:
“Hold onto (being scared)
It’s how you know (you’re still there)
If you have to crawl just keep movin’ on
Where’s the witness (are you sick)
I can’t see it (is this a trick)
Repeat the steps until bottles gone”
I can see, empathize, and sympathize with the struggle that the story of the song talks about. After these first three hard hitting tracks, doesn’t it feel like we need a ballad? Well let’s talk about…
When Angels Learn To Fly
It took me several hundred listens to cry at this track. I know some people were saying they cried as soon as they heard it. It had to marinate with me. I had to have my headphones on, get into the groove of the song, and really feel the music and lyrics. Once I got to the oh my god, this is speaking to me…. I have to say, if they had released this song in 2015, it’d be right up there with See You Again, which I have already referenced, in making me think about my Mom.
With Lyrics like:
“I’ve cried till my tears ran out, just at the thought of you
I swear to God I’d rather drown, than swim in this sea of truth
But here we are, a whole new start
We’ll make it work, I know this is gonna hurt”
From 2015-2017, I felt like my life was a constant restart, and this part of the song speaks to that!
And then the repeated lines of:
“I’ve been hopeless and broken, since you’ve gone away
I’ve been hopeless and broken, since you’ve gone away
I’ve been hopeless and broken, since you’ve gone away
I’ve been hopeless and broken, since you’ve gone away”
^ When I heard those lines I was instantly transported back to 2015 right after my Mom died, and then my Dad and I reconnected. This song is a true masterpiece, and it’s something that creeps up on you, when you are least expecting it. The lyrics almost overtake the melody, but they meld together nicely for a story that we can all understand.
Live This Way
From the opening drumbeat, you know that this song will be a heavy hitter. From 1:56 to 2:26 of the song, that Chris Robertson guitar solo feels like he’s ripping right into my soul, and bringing out the frustrations I’ve dealt within my own mind. With lyrics like:
“Leaves are changin’, time is wasting
Sorry if this comes out wrong
I’m tired of waiting, anticipating
Can’t believe we’ve been this long
Life is way too short to live this way”
This is a very catchy tune, and the way that I interpret it is that, we can’t live the way we did before. With everything changing we have to change with the times. And trust me change isn’t easy for me at all. I still adapt to change, and I go with what’s going to be best for me and Karen. Live This Way is a song that digs down into your soul, and asks you, “Can you really live this way?”
In Love With The Pain
Will They, or Won’t They? Mike Rodway worked with Black Stone Cherry once again, to craft the video for this song. I had listened to the song, before seeing the video for it. As I was listening to it, I felt as if it was a moment in time that was frozen, just so we could experience it. Once I saw the video, I love that they shot it as a mini movie or short film. The Story of the Song is all about a couple who meet, spend time together, and then go their separate ways. As a native Bostonian, I LOVE that they filmed the video in Massachusetts, it brought back so many memories of that locale.
As far as the song goes, I really dig it, the sound is soothing, yet upbeat, it gives you the listener hope for the couple that the story is talking about. Lyrically it is very catchy…. With 90% of the song being a chorus, you get the feeling that being in love with the pain ain’t such a bad thing:
“I’m in love with the pain
Addicted to your flame
Yeah, I can’t get enough
I wanna feel your burn
Turn me upside down
Turn me inside out
Leave me cold as rain
I’m in love with the pain
I’m in love with the
I’m in love with the pain”
The video enhances the song so much though. The fact that they filmed it in my home state of Massachusetts, makes me love the song even more! Wonderfully done songwriting, singing, and playing. Now let us get to…
The Chain (No Not That One)
They fooled us! Well maybe not, but I know as soon as I saw ‘The Human Condition’s track list, I thought this was gonna be a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song. Surprisingly it’s a wonderful original tune, that kicks ass! ‘The Chain’ has that heaviness to it, but it brings a wonderful message to the world. The riffs here are sonically entrancing, as is the message in the song. With lyrics such as:
“Right now it’s time to stand out
Without religion to blame, we are all one in the same
Let go of all you can’t control
Until we all make a change, we are just links in the chain”
Those lines dig deep into how the world is right now. From 2:01 to around 2:38 is one of the best instrumental solos I’ve ever heard. BSC really has upped their game on ‘The Human Condition’, because they not only give a message in the song, both lyrics and instruments get to breathe. That’s the way to craft a song. We go from “The Chain” and we “Ride” on into the next track…
As we go on the ride that is “Ride”, I have to say that this song has a great instrumental hook in it. Between that and the lyrics, it makes me feel like I’m watching a buncha bikers ride through my city. It feels like a biker anthem, and the guys even say as much in the TRACK COMMENTARY, that they did for it. If you listen to the line that says,
“Ride, straight on through the flames that burn so High, in the name of freedom Ride, it’s the only way that we Survive/”
I’ve known several bikers in my lifetime, and the only way they feel alive, is when they’re riding their motorcycles. Again BSC does something to capture every part of the audience, and that’s amazing. While this isn’t my #1 go to song on the album, I still love hearing it when it comes up.
If My Heart Had Wings
Well if my heart had wings, it’d take three months to cry after hearing this song. I remember all of my BSC friends saying that they cried the first time they heard this track. I guess it just took awhile for it to hit me. In the space between that “The Ride” ends, and this track begins, there’s a silence, that makes me feel as if I’m at a Black Stone Cherry concert, waiting for the next song to start. I don’t think I’ve noticed that on this record till now. The story the song tells is heart wrenching, but again it also has a semblance of hope. With lyrics like:
“If my heart had wings, I’d rise above all my mistakes
Do what it takes, go anywhere to bring you back to me
If my heart had lips, I’d tell ya all the things I miss and steal your kiss
I’m lost without you”
The want to rise above our mistakes, and the need to start over… I really feel that at times. Whilst I know this is talking about a relationship, those same feelings can be felt about anything in life. What really gets me musically with this track is the way the slow fade out happens at the end.
Don’t Bring Me Down (ELO Cover)
Ahh yes the cover on the album. Black Stone Cherry excels at the covers they do. ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” is no exception. As I mentioned above, that tail end fade away of “If My Heart Had Wings”, flows nicely into the crash, boom, bang, that BSC put on this track. I went back and listened to the original song, and personally BSC did it better. This is one of those songs, that you remember, but don’t remember… ya know? I instantly remembered the song when I saw the name, but not what it sounded like. Listening to it now, as I write this, yeah BSC improved on it sooo much. Granted Electric Light Orchestra were not a southern rock band, but still…. I need the BSC version over the original. So after this awesomeness it’s time for the guys to tell us…
This one has a nice opening beat and riff to it. What I noticed as I listen to this track is how at times Chris Robertson can and does change his voice slightly. It’s always interesting to me how singers change their tones at times. The instrumentals here seem to rise with Chris’s vocals, those drums close to the end feel like they are being pounded into the ground, and yet John Fred Young has them break, and go back to the track’s overall signature beat. It’s a wonderful song, and one of the catchier ones on the album. With lyrics like:
“Some stories ain’t worth repeating, even if we do
If you believe everything they say well, you might be a fool
Some stories ain’t worth believing, even if we do
Like the one about who shot J.F.K. or did we land on the moon”
These guys really are tellin’ us some stories! Around the three minute, twenty one second mark when the drums fade to the overall riff, I just love that part of the song. It feels as if the instruments are saying ok, we’re almost done here, now go look for….
The Devil In Your Eyes
The story of the song here flows so well, that at times when I’m doing a full album listen through, I almost miss hearing this song. I’m not trying to be negative here, and this tune does kick ass… However between it ending, and the final track starting, I feel like ‘The Devil In Your Eyes’ is a mirage in the musical desert. It’s a sweet dessert of a track though, now that I have it on blast in my headphones on repeat. With lyrics like:
“Can you forgive me, for leaving you alone
Here in the darkness, to let the truth unfold
The shadows within you, have blown your candle out”
It is a compelling story for a song, the beginning frames of the track are a melodic kick in the heart. The under tones and riffs are great as well, and that leads us to the track that finishes off Black Stone Cherry’s ‘The Human Condition’. We should all just….
Keep On Keepin’ On
When I first saw the name of this final track, my first thought was to a 2019 track release by Sasha Sloan. Her song “Keep On” has sorta the same message as this track. You can check out her song on YouTube HERE. However we aren’t here to talk about her tune, we are here to close out ‘The Human Condition’ from Black Stone Cherry. “Keep On Keepin’ On” is the PERFECT ending to a record that has so much in it. If “Ringin’ In My Head” was the perfect lead off hitter, “Keep On Keepin’ On” is the best clutch hitter at the end of the lineup! With lyrics like:
“Every day I fight another battle
I got the scars to prove that I can heal
And as the world starts to unravel
I hang on tight to anything that’s real.”
This song is telling us that no matter what things will get better, and that if we keep on keepin’ on… it’ll be okay in the long run. And then we get to the Chorus:
“When everything that’s good is gone
Got to keep on keepin’ on
Till I get where I belong, got to keep on keepin’ on
When everything that’s good is gone
Got to keep on keepin’ on
Till I get where I belong, got to keep on keepin’ on
I said keep on keepin’ on”
We all have to keep goin’, we have to rise up, and fight for what we believe in. This track is a GRAND SLAM GAME WINNING HOME RUN in my eyes and ears. The guitar riffs are solemnly strung throughout the song, the drumbeats are almost like the drumming of a heart beat. What a perfect ending, to an album that lifts us up in these trying times. We always need to Keep On Keepin’ On! I keep thinking of things to write for this song, that fade out at the end is a resounding guitar riff of greatness! BSC normally closes out every show with their song “Lonely Train”, but on the ‘Family Tree’ tour, they closed it out with that album’s title track. I hearby nominate ‘Keep On Keepin’ On” to be the new closer to every BSC concert from 2021 and beyond!
This album was released October 30, 2020. It has taken me nearly three, almost four months to write this review. Not because I didn’t like the album, or because I didn’t want to write it up the way that I did. Life just kept getting in the way. However I’ve had this album playing cover to cover since it dropped on Spotify. When listening to the album specifically, I do listen from Track 1 to Track 13. I do not shuffle it, because the arrangement of the stories in the album that is BSC’s ‘The Human Consition’ is perfect just the way it is. If you’re lookin’ for some feel good, heavy southern rock, than look no further than BLACK STONE CHERRY!!!! They’ve really brought us answers to what The Human Condition is. I hope everyone reading this will join Cherry Heads: The Official Black Stone Cherry Family group on Facebook! I love interacting with fellow BSC fans, and we are all family. I’m rating this album 5 Stars, you can read the GCRN Ratings System HERE.