Let’s go ahead and get this part out of the way: Black Stone Cherry’s new album “Magic Mountain,” due to be released Tuesday on Roadrunner Records, is far and away the best hard-rock album — and one of the best albums of any genre — made in the last several years.
That being said, should I feel guilty admitting that my favorite two songs on an album filled with incredible songs are the Eddie Vedder-worthy ballad “Sometimes” and the country-ish — in a good, Stones kind of way — “Hollywood in Kentucky?” I mean, this is — I repeat — the best hard rock album released in quite some time.
But it’s hard to get past how much of an impact “Sometimes” — with vocalist Chris Robertson’s haunting “Sometimes I cut myself on the fine line between laughter and pain ‘cause it all feels the same to me” money-shot refrain and guitarist Ben Wells’ acoustic finger-picking — has on listeners who’ve grown accustomed to the cookie-cutter, guitar-drums-bass-but-mostly-effects that passes for rock music these days.
And it’s impossible not to have fun listening to “Hollywood,” with the Kentucky-bred boys in BSC providing an anthem-ready declaration, “Good old boys would be the only ones gettin’ lucky if Hollywood was in Kentucky” and the song’s wonderful heartland imagery: “A trailer on the lake would be waterfront living,” “the Kardashians wouldn’t be allowed in it” and “your ass’d get a job if you ran out of money.” Plus, you can’t not lovethe cowpunk guitar stomp of the song’s perfect coda.
But, lest we forget, “Magic Mountain” is a hard-rock album. With little flashes of guitar that bring to mind the likes of Hendrix, AC/DC’s Angus Young, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Black Sabbath’s Tommy Iommi — while at no time sounding derivative — Wells and Robertson play some of the best licks this side of your dad’s Zeppelin collection.
And Robertson, whose voice is a perfect whiskey blend of Shinedown’s Brent Smith with a dash of Black Oak Arkansas’ Jim Dandy and a couple of shots of Buckcherry’s Josh Todd, tears into the 13 songs on the album with a passion that only the best hard rockers can manage without sounding caricaturish.
Robertson and Wells — with, it must be noted, excellent rhythm backup by drummer John Fred Young (a student of the John Bonham school of caveman pounding) and bassist Jon Lawhon (who is the star of the excellent party anthem single “Me and Mary Jane,” which out-Rick Jameses Rick James) — shine brightest on tracks like “Bad Luck & Hard Love” (which invokes the names of legendary Bluesmen Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf), “Runaway,” the Rammstein-heavy “Fiesta Del Fuego” and the perfect palate-cleansing rock-out album closer “Remember Me.”
Over Wells’ magic guitar, Robertson asks, “When I am gone, will you stay strong? When heaven calls, don’t cry, this is not a dream. Will you remember me?” If you weren’t banging your head to the tune, you’d probably spend a moment or two marveling at how perfectly the song’s lyrics close the door on what may well turn out to be the best album of 2014.