Proud Kentucky rockers, Black Stone Cherry, emerge from a challenging few years triumphantly with a behemoth of an album, Screamin’ At The Sky (Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group), out September 29th. The four-piece band’s eighth album explodes with urgently-emotive pop-rock hooks; heartfelt, redemptive lyrics; headbanging riffs; powerful dynamics; thunderous drums; and its most thrilling musicianship yet. The 12-song collection is also BSC’s biggest and best sounding album. The self-produced studio record was tracked at a classic Kentucky theater, and it sounds like the guys are smashing down the hammer of the gods.
“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. He continues: “There is a lot of darkness on this album—I bared my soul—but it always foreshadows light at the end of the tunnel.” Adds guitarist/backing vocalist Ben Wells: “We see something beautiful letting pain out—you come out a better person.”
In the past two decades, Black Stone Cherry has set a new standard for Southern rock, revitalizing the tradition with its burly riffs and stirring rock hooks. Since its formation in 2001, the four-piece brotherhood has remained Chris Robertson, vocals/guitar; Ben Wells, guitar/vocals; and John Fred Young, drums. Today, the band welcomes its dear friend Steve Jewell Jr. on bass/backing vocals.
Steve is formerly of the blues-rock band OTIS who has opened for BSC many times. “I grew up around this music. Every time we play ‘Lonely Train,’ I remember driving with my dad and hearing it on the radio. I get emotional thinking about it,” Steve says. John Fred chimes in: “Steve is the young kid in the band—he doesn’t have as many wrinkles! He’s a monster player, and we have this insane chemistry with him.”
BSC’s last album, The Human Condition, released on October 30th, 2020 through Mascot Records, was their sixth consecutive No. 1 debut on the UK Rock Albums chart. The album’s lead single, “Again” was the band’s biggest single in over 10 years in America, peaking at #15, and it was BSC’s highest charting record ever in Canada, also landing in the Top 15. The album racked-up 50 million streams worldwide, and “Again” amassed 20 million streams total.
Over the years, BSC has both headlined and rocked 12,000-cap arena shows and shared the stage with a diverse roster of superstars, including Alter Bridge, Theory of a Deadman, Def Leppard, Gov’t Mule, Nickelback, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Mötorhead, Halestorm, Stone Temple Pilots, The Darkness, and ZZ Top. In 2018, BSC performed in front of 100,000 people at the Download Festival as main support to Guns N’ Roses. In 2021, the band played the UK’s venerated Royal Albert Hall, immortalized on 2022’s live DVD Live From The Royal Albert Hall…Y’All.
Screamin’ At The Sky features all-new material written collaboratively while on tour. When it came time to record, BSC decided to try something it’s always dreamed of doing: tracking an album at The Plaza Theater in Glasgow, Kentucky, a legendary 1020-seat venue built in 1934 that boasts meticulous acoustics. “Every time we played the Plaza we wondered what it would sound like to record drums there. We finally decided to put all our eggs in one basket,” Chris says.
In June of 2022, the band rented the theater and brought its trusty engineer, Jordan Westfall, and all its recording equipment into the theater, setting up the basement as the control room and the stage as the live drum room. John Fred tore through his drum tracks like a beast, and they ended up sounding mountainous. Chris and Ben had time to record guitars in the theater before heading out on tour. Those tracks also sounded richly dynamic, and the rest of Screamin’ At The Sky was finished post-tour at the theater and at John Fred’s makeshift home studio.
Time between recording sessions, and incredible room ambience have resulted in a career high watermark for BSC. Screamin’ At The Sky bursts open with the title track which kicks off with the feral roar of dimed amps in a big open space. Then a bruising riff cycles through punctuated by what can be best described as John Bonham-sized drums in a sleek modern rock context. For the chorus, Chris delivers one of his finest performances, managing to be raw-nerved emotional but also smoothly melodic. “My idea for the chorus is a bunch of friends around a campfire screaming their pain away,” Chris says.
He is courageously autobiographical on the anthemic, “Nervous,” which opens with the lyrics: Memory lane, it’s ‘85, a baby boy with big blue eyes/And promises just waiting to be broken. The song balances slamming hard rock riffage with moody clean-guitar verses, reflective singing, and meticulously-crafted vocal melodies that gracefully rise until climaxing into an urgently-melodic chorus.
The barnburners continue with “When The Pain Comes,” an uplifting modern rock statement on confronting life’s challenges without succumbing to the pain. “That’s about digging your heels in the dirt and staying strong,” John Fred says. The single, “Out Of Pocket,” became something of an instant classic when the guys debuted it on their UK tour last summer. It epitomizes the band’s prowess at mixing sweetly weary verses with incendiary choruses. BSC lighten things up with “Smile, World,” a brawny sing-along about not taking life too seriously.
Screamin’ At The Sky has been a catharsis for Black Stone Cherry, and the quartet is savoring the calm after the storm. “A lot of bands would have thrown in the towel, but we came out the other side with some of the best music we’ve ever made,” Ben enthuses. Chris concludes: “ We’re in a great space—this band is as much as a family as it’s ever been.”