Welcome to Check Your Mode

The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Black Country Communion - 2: B+

If you’re like me, you were probably surprised that the debut album from Black Country Communion, the supergroup of solo guitarist Joe Bonamassa, bassist/singer Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fame, Foreigner drummer Jason Bonham, and former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian, wasn’t a hulking piece of shit. Also, if you’re like me, you were probably surprised that this seeming one-off was actually going to come up with a follow-up to their debut less than a year after its release. And, also, if you’re like me, you’re going to be surprised that the appropriately titled 2 is just as robust and reliable as their debut.

Basically, if you enjoyed Black Country or if you are a big fan of the affiliates of these group members, you will enjoy 2. It has reliable riffs, excellent instrumentation and displays some solid hard rock songwriting. The group has a clear chemistry (otherwise this album wouldn’t exist), so it is great fun just to hear them play off each other, even if that doesn’t necessarily translate into the most memorable of songs.

2 is nearly identical to Black Country in virtually every way – musically, thematically, lyrically. What only distances 2 from its predecessor is that Joe Bonamassa does not feature as prominently with show stopping guitar solos like Black Country’s “Too Late for the Sun”, and that does work against the group, overall. Still, Black Country Communion has proven with 2 that they are a force to be reckoned with. Hard rock’s a bit of a dead art these days, so it seems apt that the people resurrecting it are the people who helped create it.


Little Scream - The Golden Record: B+

Musically, you won’t find anything on Montreal singer/songwriter Little Scream’s debut album that you wouldn’t find on the work of other quiet acoustic folk artists that are quickly becoming a ‘10’s cliché. Instrumentally, The Golden Record falls somewhere below the lush darkness of Laura Marling and above the barely-there unobtrusiveness of Lia Ices. I would probably equate the arrangements of The Golden Record to something like The Mynabirds, the Oklahoma group that’s modest debut last year made hardly an indent on the indie folk scene, let alone the musical landscape as a whole. A cursory listen to The Golden Record’s acoustic guitars and frail voices may warrant an immediate dismissal to an uncaring musical purgatory.

While this is true throughout most of The Golden Record, the album has several redeemable moments that contradict the timidity of the arrangements. “The Heron and Fox”, musically, would not turn many heads, but, lyrically, Little Scream exhibits a knack for making unconventional subjects profound with clever wordplay. “I told the stripper at the bar that the shots we got were magic / Make a wish and it’ll come true / As she smiled her golden tooth / Glinted in the light / I wonder what she wished for / I just wished for you.” It ‘s a very roundabout way of making a point, but all that poetic talk of strippers and gold only increases the momentum as Little Scream gets to the punchline. Elsewhere, she exerts lyrical dominance over the titular character in “Guyegaros”, telling him to “put down your guitar and meet me in the choir” in the choruses. These moments hint at the strong character Little Scream can be, and, when she assumes that central roll, she sets herself apart from her peers.

This is why “Red Hunting Jacket” comes at such a surprise so late in The Golden Record and also why it’s the album’s most rewarding track. With joyous handclaps and distorted guitar, the track is active but also has a better pop sense than all the other tracks on The Golden Record. Little Scream’s breathy voice doesn’t completely fit the track’s changed mood, but it’s still a highlight because not only does it make Little Scream a prominent figure as opposed to the rest of The Golden Record, but it also shows that she sounds excellent when she is.