Monday, January 18, 2010

Black Country: The Real Vultures?

Based on what I'm hearing so far, it seems that the closest we may get to Zeppelin-esque nirvana in 2010 may not be Them Crooked Vultures after all.  With six tracks in the can and more on the way, the new blues/rock supergroup, Black Country, featuring Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes, Derek Sherinian, and Jason Bonham, should have a Kevin Shirley produced album done by late March, and it may blow away anything previously done by any of the group's members.

Kevin Shirley has stated that the group would most likely complete their first record and have it out by late summer, and has expressed amazement at the group's sound and initial progress.  Shirley has produced such acts as Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Iron Maiden, and he did the remixes for Zeppelin's How The West Was Won. 

Judging from Hughes and Bonamassa's jam at Guitar Center's Night of the Blues in November (several vids available on youtube - especially a great version of Deep Purple's Mistreated), this project will be perhaps the sleeper event of the year for fans of guitar oriented rock and blues.  With Sherinian said to be supplying mostly "distorted Hammond Organ sounds," the group sounds like the closest we'll come to a classic Deep Purple-styled outing.  As much as I'd love to see Ritchie Blackmore tread the boards with his former band mates again, I'm not holding my breath given singer Ian Gillan's distates for the man, and David Coverdale's throat problems.  I know Deep Purple is an ongoing concern, but what they do now is admirably a bit removed from classic Purple.  Steve Morse has been with the band a great many years, and has made it an entity of it's own that while doing great work, isn't really classic blues rock, which is what old Purple did best.

Glenn Hughes has been recording and touring to great success for many seasons, but has until now failed to find a partner with which to share the stage.  Said to be issuing an autobiography this year, which should be a great read, given his amzing discent into addiction hell and his subsequent recovery.  Unknown to most American rock fans, Hughes plays to sold ouut audiences all over the world, and is amazingly prolific on the album sidee of things as well.

Hughes's bands have featured some fine guitarists, but no one with a strong identity, or an established sound of their own.  He's not had a challenging regular bandmate with which to share the stage since David Coverdale.  This has now changed, especially given Bonamassa's increasing rock and roll stance over the last couple of years.  He's been inching closer and closer to rock and roll, and this should finish the job.  The world may finally get what it's never received from Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker's ill-fated attempts at reliving the promise of Cream over the years, or Purple's post-Blackmore progression.  Black Country could be the new champion of progressive rock and blues.  Having Kevin Shirley behind the mixing console is a great sign.  Having Jason Bonham onboard - great sign.  My assuption is that these two stalwarts will push the duo firmly in the direction of rock.

What I like about this is that there is no talk of remote recording, or any of the malarky that so often goes along with these supergroup type collaborations.  No, these guys are writing and recording together as a band, with the producer on hand, and none of the Pro Tools as Houdini bullshit that oftens occurs.  Many is the project that features bands that have never played in the same room, and the problem is, they always sound like it.  Working with Shirley in actual sessions, and sessions spread out over some time, not just knocked out in one day also bodes well for the project's success.

One area that concerns me is the songwriting side of things.  If I have a problem with Them Crooked Vultures, it's in the realm of songcraft.  Granted it's only my view, but I wish Grohl's sense of melody and structure had more strongly figured into their equation.  I'm a song guy, and in the song category, I don't hear myself humming any Vultures tunes yet.  My guess is that Bonamassa's more simple blues based sound will combine with Hughes's ultra-sophisticated take on rock and funk, and come to an agreement somewhere in the middle taking both to a higher level.  If I'm right, we may have a monster on our hands.  Here's hoping they exceed beyond all expectations.

I can easily see these guys on tour with the newly formed/reunited West, Bruce, and Laing in the fall.  I've yet to hear Leslie West and Malcom Bruce (Jack Bruce's son who has filled his father's shoes in this reunion) play together, but I hear good things, and entertain my usual high hopes.  West's 2007 album of  Dylan covers, Masters of War, remains one of the finest hard rock guitar outings I've heard in many years, and I'm hoping he's still on track.  If you never heard the Dylan tribute, look it up and have your mind blown.  I listened to it just the other day, and I'm always pleasantly surprised to hear West singing and playing better than ever.

I've been a huge Glenn Hughes fan since first hearing Deep Purple's, Stormbringer, and have been aching to hear him perform with a guitarist with a own sound and character of his own ever since.  He came close twice.  Once with Tony Iommi on the proposed Iommi solo record that became a Black Sabbath record, The Seventh Star.  Then a few years later, he recorded a few great tracks that ended up on Gary Moore's, Run for Cover.   Both outings sadly lead nowhere, and since, Hughes has done fine work on his own, but has never had a cast as strong as his lead.  Now that may well change, and the world may get a great surprise and a great new band.  Wouldn't (may I should say - won't) that be great?

I'm placing much of my faith on the fact that Derek Sherinian, a fantastic keyboard player, is being used to largely play the role of a latter day Jon Lord.  This tells me that the Purple vibe is being carefully considered, and that could be very cool, indeed.  The combination of this with Kevin Shirley's vast experience as a producer and engineer tells me volumes about this project.

My prediction is that this will be the sleeper of the year.  We'll see, won't we....coming in late summer, 2010.

Black Country.

Edit:  By the response I've received, it's obvious that I should point out the fact that Glenn Hughes has been amazingly prolific for the past decade.  He's made several records with Iommi since the Sabbath record.  My point in the blog is that Glenn hasn't had a regular partner for touring or recording that is equal his amazing talent or stature, and I think every artist benefits from this. Blacck Country should prove this.  Find out more on Glenn and Joe, and Black Country at: (Kevin Shirley's site) (hughes and bonamassa doing Mistreated)

and thanks to Mark ( a reader) for correcting my gaff on the name of Seventh Star (a great record incidentally, my favorite to ever bear the name Black Sabbath).  Fire at will, Dio, Gillan, and Ozzie fans.

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