Review by Jem
In the realm of emotions, grief is often a private process, shielded by the intensity of its waves and societal expectations that our emotional journeys be confined behind closed doors. Yet, there exists a band that has long defied this unspoken norm, bravely pulling the stopper from the bottle and allowing emotions to run free. BLACK STONE CHERRY, with their latest release, “Screamin’ At The Sky,” takes a bold leap into the depths of personal loss, unravelling the raw and unfiltered essence of the grieving process.
Guitarist Ben Wells opens a window into the soul of the album, sharing, “I think this album may be our most transparent we’ve done in quite some time – or maybe ever. Musically, and especially lyrically, we just shed another layer and said ‘Look, if we’re feeling a certain way, let’s just say it. Let’s not try to put it in so many metaphorical ways. Let’s just be blunt and say it.” The lyrics, like those in the tearing single “Nervous,” resonate with a palpable vulnerability: “I feel worthless/Introverted,” laying bare the tumultuous emotions that accompany the loss of a parent.
This unapologetic honesty, while consistent with BLACK STONE CHERRY’s ethos, marks a departure in terms of directness. Ben addresses the use of profanity in the lyrics, emphasizing that it is not for mere shock value but a genuine reflection of the emotional context. The band, known for its family-friendly appeal, acknowledges the potential alienation of some fans but stands firm, asserting that in today’s musical landscape, their expression remains relatively tame.
Beyond lyrical shifts, the band’s lineup underwent a transformation with the inclusion of bassist Steve Jewell Jr in 2021. Ben elaborates on the seamless fit, highlighting Steve’s long-standing presence in the same music scene and emphasizing the musical elevation brought by the new addition. Steve’s arrival coincided with a thematic shift for the band – the exploration of the profound and challenging theme of parental loss.
While BLACK STONE CHERRY touched on the subject previously with “Things My Father Said” in 2008, the recent material delves deeper into the intricacies of grief. The poignant ballad “R.O.A.R.,” co-written with bass tech Jordan Westfall, reflects on the universal experience of losing a parent. Ben reflects on the song, noting its potential as a healing force: “Sadly it’s something everyone will experience at some point in time, but I hope people can latch on to this song and have it be a healing thing for them.”
Fundamentally, BLACK STONE CHERRY emerges as a healing force for its listeners. Tracks like “Big City Lights,” “In Love With The Pain,” and “Peace Is Free” have established the band as a steadfast presence in the lives of their passionate fanbase, the Cherry Heads. Ben underscores the profound impact of their music, stating, “You can get awards and accolades which is great but when someone tells us our music has touched their lives, that is the ultimate payoff.”
Maintaining a grounded connection with their audience, the band rejects VIP packages and instead engages with fans outside venues, forging a unique bond. This genuine connection extends to the recent inclusion of fan-made videos in the “Smile World” music video, offering a refreshing dose of joy in challenging times.
In an album laden with emotional weight, the track “Smile World” provides a three-minute respite, reminding listeners of the importance of perspective and joy. Ben emphasizes this theme, stating, “We always want to remind people that sometimes it’s good to take a break and smile, you know what I mean? It’s all about perspective.”
As the album concludes with “Here’s To The Hopeless” and “You Can Have It All,” Ben reflects on the subconscious decision to pair these tracks, interpreting them as a narrative of resilience and recovery. The guitarist shares, “We wanted people to leave the listening experience feeling empowered. We wanted that light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the crucible of creating “Screamin’ At The Sky,” BLACK STONE CHERRY learned the immense reward of pushing beyond their comfort zones. Ben’s reflection encapsulates the band’s essence – a group dedicated to encouraging fans to live authentically, embracing their feelings to the fullest extent. “Screamin’ At The Sky” stands as a testament to the power of music in navigating the complex terrain of grief, offering solace, understanding, and ultimately, hope.
“Screamin’ At The Sky” is out now via Mascot Records, inviting listeners on a cathartic journey through the depths of emotion and the promise of healing.