Black Stone Cherry

Folklore and Superstition

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For all its spirited, hard-hitting performances and wide-eyed country boy attitude, Black Stone Cherry's eponymous debut still gave off a faintly fishy smell of new millennium corporate rock, with certain icy guitar tones and aluminum-plated vocal textures sounding more like Nickelback or Shinedown than honest-to-goodness Southern rock. Even so, the band's natural songwriting instincts and overall precociousness (all four were barely past the age of twenty at the time) were enough to convince most listeners that BSC's hearts were in the right place, and that perhaps it was only a matter of time and experience before their legitimate Kentucky roots rose to the surface. Those hopes are satisfied, in part, by 2008's sophomore release, Folklore and Superstition, which sure feels more like a product of the band's own creative viewpoint (as opposed to their handlers'), but doesn't quite fulfill the earthy, Southern rock promises made by its title and accompanying swamp-and-moonshine CD art. If anything, Folklore and Superstition's production (courtesy of the experienced Bob Marlette -- Alice Cooper, Saliva, etc.) might be cleaner and sleeker than its predecessor's, pushing crisp melodies and anthemic choruses -- not to mention rather startling background gang-vocals -- to the fore on fist-pumping singles candidates like "Blind Man" and "Soulcreek," plus more romantic fare like the memorable "Please Come In." But the group is also keen to take more chances here: whether that means quoting the Beatles' "Come Together" during "Reverend Wrinkle," layering nifty organs and slide guitars onto "Devil's Queen," injecting a reggae groove into "Sunrise," or trying to write their own "Freebird" or "Simple Man" via blues-tinged, part-acoustic ballads like "Peace Is Free" and "You." The experiments don't always work, of course, and sometimes breed frustratingly mixed results (as on "Things My Father Said," which mars an unprecedented piano part and truly heartfelt tribute with some childishly cornball lyrics), but at least the band is following their own muse. And that's why philosophically polar opposites like "The Bitter End" -- a tough-nut heavy rock throwback to their first album -- and "Ghost of Floyd Collins" -- here, at last, a promising glimpse of the group's growing connection to their Southern heritage -- can both qualify as album highlights. Make no mistake, Black Stone Cherry's sound still owes as much to Alice in Chains and their infamous disciples cited above (see the dirge riffs used on weak links "Long Sleeves" and "The Keys") as it does to Molly Hatchet; and their formerly razor sharp hard rock focus has been diluted somewhat in order to accommodate their ever expanding compositional toolkit. But Folklore and Superstition, imperfect as it may be, nevertheless feels like a step in the right direction for the Kentucky quartet, who simply need to keep on following their hearts, stop letting those damn Yankees polish up their records, and they'll be bound to find their inner Skynyrd.

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