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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Black 'N Blue

Hell Yeah

Review by Larry Toering

Black 'N Blue have come a long way after all this time, and this long awaited release did not come easily or quickly at all. Jaime St. James is revitalized, as are the whole band. I've spent my share of time around them and attended just about every show they’ve played in our hometown of Portland, including some of their first gigs, right down to their farewell gig in 1988. They've been up to a lot all this time. Drummer Pete Holmes, for instances, has been in and out of a variety of projects including stints with Michael Schenker Group on tour, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple in the studio and outings with a list of other well known artists. St. James has been up to plenty on his own as well, including a stint with Warrant which included an album. It’s great to see they're back with this strong effort now finally being released. Jeff Warner on guitar and  Patrick Young on bass return with Shawn Sonnenschein taking the place of Tommy Thayer (now in Kiss) on lead guitar, and a fine job he does. Black 'N Blue are back with a vengeance and what I feel is a strong contender for their overall finest record in Hell Yeah. This is a great comeback from a great band. Last October they were inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. It was a fabulous show and everyone was pumped and fully rehearsed for the event. On this new record, gone are the glam factors to quite an extent, but not all the way. However this can easily be considered a stripped back version of the band, but that’s a good thing. Welcome back, my friends!

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Track by Track Review

Things begin with a heavier essence than expected. Out of nowhere comes a crushing thunderous vibe, not that of the more glam leanings of the past. This is hot! St. James sounds like he hasn't aged a day. Not only that, he has the energy to match. This has “hit potential” written all over it. I say “potential'” because in this day and age it's like some kind of universal accomplishment for any hard rock band to achieve a hit, no matter how they define it. It really is nice to hear no punches being pulled. With this opener one gets the idea they've matured beyond the type of stuff that they used to do. There’s a killer guitar solo, and yes, Holmes hits harder on the drums than usual.

Starting off with a gritty riff, the bass booms through and St. James lets his magic do the singing. There’s all kinds of attitude on this track with a generous amount of background vocals. I'm quickly forgetting about Thayer here, and it's sounding like a whole new band and the guitar is by no means reduced. I love the way this fades with the keys too. It’s another solid track!  From the mention of Mr. Rogers to Eskimo Pie, the humor is already cracking me up as I punch the air with sheer happiness that they've finally returned.
Hail Hail
This is a slower paced rocker with a lower register from St. James and an ominous homage to rock 'n roll. Again no punches are pulled and the chorus is 100% Black 'N Blue madness. There is a bluesy mid-section with great vocal parts as well. Three out of three isn't bad at all so far.
Fools Bleed
There is a change in the tempo as this track captures a more anthemic approach. It's somewhere between a ballad and a rocker with a classic hard rock edge. I love how the whole thing is constructed and ultimately delivered. This is another tune of flawless magnitude, and Holmes keeps the beat proper throughout this track. He is at the top of my list of favorite rock drummers, and it's great to hear him back where it all basically started. This is great stuff!
This has a more industrial feel, with pure guts galore! It's like they're all grown up, but then they are. So, naturally they've gotten away from how they used to do things and there is even a feeling of experimentation on this one. This is not one of the strongest of the first five tracks, but it's tons of fun, as usual. You have to know these guys a little to understand their humor, and being the butt of a joke is nothing but a move of affection from them. It means they like you. They wouldn't bother doing such a thing with someone they don't like. This is shaping up to be their finest hour on record, in my opinion. There is also a Foreigner vibe to some of the guitar here. Otherwise Sonnenschein leads away with ferocity.
Jaime's Got The Beer
As I was hinting during the prior track, the humor comes full circle here on this fifty six second ditty. Crack one open and on to the next track, hilarious!
Angry Drunk Son Of A B***h
One can see where the previous track was going here. There’s more laughter as I catch the “'I just Want To Celebrate” lift for the chorus. It’s very clever and once again funny as all get out. The guitars have a chance to stretch out a bit here, and then that chorus is repeated to a more than satisfying effect. This is outstanding!
So Long
This harks back to classic B'NB and is more up the glam alley. It's still somehow modern and full of ambition nevertheless, and I'm beginning to like them more and more in this form. St. James sings “I put it all in a song” with such perfection that it's all very impressive. One is so easily reminded of the past here, and that is a good thing if you go way back with these guys, as you can't completely get way from such an illustrious existence. I love this. It's massively infectious!
Trippin' 45
A space is made for this lovely little acoustic piece, which contains some fine picking. I'd like to hear this extended for a few more minutes, but I can see why anyone would leave well enough alone.
Falling Down
On this track one gets the impression there is no secret why St. James was chosen to sing for Warrant, as this has a hint of their style to it. It is not a typical B'NB approach here, but it's a welcome vibe, and the guitar fills are awesome. There is something for anyone here who ever liked this band. This is another solid track with the addition of some cool guitar factors, including that lovely swipe.
We get more of the same vibe here. In fact, this is even more Warrant sounding with a “Cherry Pie”-like vocal. Who knows, maybe Warrant took a page from B'NB's book of ideas as well, but it's neither here nor there, just an observation. Either way this is another awesome track, and a favorite of mine from this superb comeback record.
Hell Yeah!
The title track is full of sheer bombast with a party feel that won't quit. There’s more sizzling guitar and killer drums. Not only that, but you can hear everyone so evenly because it's mixed with an integrity that can be appreciated by anyone who fully recognizes all of the talent in this band. This captures the very essence of what B'NB are all about.
World Goes Round
Once again they nail it with an instant B'NB classic, and it's as sweet as anything here. They must've had an absolute ball recording this track as well as the others. It's been a long time in the making so I know that might sound a bit trite but the end result has that very effect. I love this!
A Tribute To Hawking
Talk about tripping, things close with a surprising twist as this little number features a helium-like vocal effect as some words about Steven Hawking are mentioned. Then the fade away includes the words “Hail Hail Rock 'n Roll.” There are several surprises on this release and this track certainly is one of them. Cool stuff from the boys, and happy to say it after all these years of their absence as a unit. A fine closing moment to a fine release that has been over 20 years awaited.
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