Black Country Communion

Afterglow

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Black Country Communion recorded their third album, 2012's Afterglow, in a matter of weeks, and it shows. Its songs sound by and large looser and more spontaneous than the oftentimes overwrought, Zeppelinian extravaganzas dominating 2011's still quite wonderful BCC2, thus sort of coming full circle to their template-setting eponymous 2010 debut in the process. This, in conjunction with some public sparring betwixt BCC's celebrity band members, suggests Afterglow may end up being the group's final hurrah -- which wouldn't be all that surprising, given the always mercurial dynamics of supergroups, but why wallow in anticipated misery before the fat lady sings? Better to carry on indulging, for now, in the incomparable voice of living legend (and bassist) Glenn Hughes, instead, as well as the versatile guitar licks (and lone vocal on "Cry Freedom") of Joe Bonamassa, plus the ever powerful, spot-on drumming of Jason Bonham, and even Derek Sherinian's always tasteful keyboards -- all four led as always by Svengali producer Kevin Shirley. Actually, if anyone's ego and talent have taken a backseat to the others' throughout BCC's existence, it's been Sherinian's, so it's refreshing to be able to call out his more pronounced contributions to Afterglow. His keys lend a gospel flavor to the hypnotic churn of "This Is Your Time" (before it erupts into a blistering solo from Bonamassa); on "Confessor," they pogo around the other instruments like vintage Rush; on "Cry Freedom," his Mellotron embarks on a swirling vamp…and so it goes. One must also note that, despite the less labored vibe of the material, in general, Led Zep remain crucial instigators behind the quartet's classic hard rock stylings -- as evidenced by the start-stop dramatics of "Midnight Sun," the "No Quarter"-like reverie of "The Giver," and leaden grooves-meet-sweeping strings battling evermore across the title track. However, a disappointing, second-half quality drop-off due to workmanlike sleepwalks through "The Circle," "Crawl," and others is certainly cause for concern; after all, Hughes admitted having more time than ever before to compose for BCC this time around, possibly marking this as another clue to the group's imminent dissolution. But when you're dealing with musicians of such rare talent (not to mention an exacting producer like Shirley) even the filler tracks give off an iridescent class and arresting confidence that will doubtless come to define BCC's passage through the classic rock firmament -- even if it ends here, in a trilogy capped by Afterglow's release.

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