Black Stone Cherry – ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’

By Katherine Allvey

Black Stone Cherry have progressed far beyond blaming it on the boom boom. Now, with an average age of forty, they’ve reached maturity and managed to compress a Southern thunderstorm into a twelve song package. ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ introduces not only Steve Jewell Jr. on bass (formerly a member of OTIS) but also a distinct sense of place in the Black Stone Cherry narrative. Having co-written the album while on tour, Black Stone Cherry decided to ignore the prospect of a normal recording studio for ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’, instead opting for renting a 1930s theatre in Kentucky in order to make themselves seem small against the tsunami of their sound. It’s also a very intentional record, in spite of the staged spontaneity in the guitar riffs. “The thesis of this record is adapting and moving on. In the last few years, a lot of what I knew from childhood went away. I lost my father, and now I am the oldest living man in my family,” says vocalist/guitarist Chris Robertson. They’ve simultaneously returned to their roots and left the past behind across twelve songs. 

First, the catharsis. The concept of the title track was “a bunch of friends around a campfire screaming their pain away” according to Robertson, but what emerged was less feral wailing and more seventies rock with throaty bass raising it’s hackles in the distance. “Oh lord get me a witness, I need to say what I’m feelin,” he roars, channeling his inner preacher towards a congregation of Led Zeppelin fans. Black Stone Cherry have realised that they’re mortal in the three years since ‘The Human Condition’ was released, and that revelation set them on edge.  They ‘get nervous’ when they ‘scratch the surface’, according to second track ‘Nervous’ and that’s made them cling to their loved ones and re-evaluate their priorities. Thankfully, the thing they seem to value most is strong power rock because they’ve thrown everything they’ve got into the creation of this record. 

What comes after an epiphany about the frailty of your own existence? A sense of humour about the whole cosmic joke, of course. ‘Smile, World’ suggests we all make the most of our time on this earth via the medium of wah-wah pedals and stomping. The gentle tones drifting through ‘Here’s To The Hopeless’ provide dandelion-fluff softness amid a scratchy yet uplifting chorus. Maybe it will all turn out ok, say Black Stone Cherry, with a military drumbeat underneath to remind us of our own strength. The Eddie Vedder-tinged solidarity of ‘You Can Have It All’ is a perfect epilogue to the story they’re trying to tell, with the sawing guitar as a springboard for Robertson’s syrupy vocals.

We can make as many jokes as we like about the title of ‘Who Are You’ (CSI: Kentucky, anyone?) but like every other song on ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’, there’s a lyrical finger pointed directly at us with every turn. Taking a drop into using acoustic guitar for just a moment between accusations shifts the focus to a more personal one. That’s always been Black Stone Cherry’s gift; they can make the fire-breathing rock monster truck designed by the legends of the seventies which they musically drive into something touching and relatable. With a sound this colossal and sturdy, they should have launched themselves into the impersonal celebrity stratosphere by now, away from the little people…but no, they’ve gone and made a record that will connect with their listeners on a deeper level than you would expect. Take initial single ‘Out Of Pocket’ which they dropped mid-tour, for instance. The cuts in Robertson’s magnificent vocals open up spaces for genuine, everyday frustration amid the golden, organised instrumental chaos. 

The adult, full-realised version of Black Stone Cherry that confronts us on ‘Screamin’ At The Sky’ is a mighty beast. They’ve got the skills and the mindset to make the kind of albums that will be considered ‘classics’ in years to come, and they’re maintaining the human touch within themselves and with us. Black Stone Cherry are continuing their ascent to superstar status and it’s glorious to hear.


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