Monday, May 08, 2023

Black Country, New Road release the orchestral live album ‘Live at Bush Hall’.

Black Country, New Road have had unquestionable success since their formation in 2018, with their distinctive and experimental sound carving out new ground for post-punk, indie and rock music respectively. 

After the departure of lead vocalist Isaac Wood, the band have had to adapt to keep momentum going and their latest live album ‘Live at Bush Hall’ proves that they’re still a force to be reckoned with. 

Perhaps this release is better thought of as performance art thanks to the video that accompanies it - shot cinematically and cut together from three nights with a gleaming sheen. It adds a level of grandeur to the already impressive audio performance, and a visual listen comes highly recommended.

This live album sees the group deem sharing the load vocally as the best way to handle Wood’s departure, rather than re-hashing Wood’s technique, each band member brings with them a new style and influence. ‘Live at Bush Hall’ certainly leaves a taste that’s a little different to what has come before.

They open with ‘Up Song’, a momentous, upbeat collision of sound that pulls no punches with overlapping percussion and wind that seem to slot together effortlessly whilst remaining characterful and seemingly spontaneous. They masterfully layer elements together in an almost sensory way, an experience very different from any other band. Each band member talking to one another without words, united in orchestral brilliance. The lyrics “Look at what we did together! // BC,NR friends forever!” solidifying the question on everyone’s lips with a unified and definite answer.

Slipping into ‘The Boy’ with ease is May Kershaw, who takes the mantle of the track by delivering a haunting performance, her words twisting in her mouth across the sparse instrumentation. But the song breaks into a jazzy, fast paced flurry led by a flute, carrying the energy of the performance with it. It culminates into a moment of staccato delivery of lyrics “wanting a boy // wanting a boy // wanting a boy” repeating, as if stuck in Kershaw’s throat, her emotive style is reason enough to justify the need for live music as opposed to a recorded counterpart, with its nuance being the most impactful part of the track.

With momentum now high, the next collection of tracks brings with them a consistent level of refinement from the group - who are masters of their instruments. Whilst ‘I Won’t Always Love You’ plays with subdued moments of respite, being mostly instrumental, it still conveys the emotional turmoil of the infrequent lyrics. A crescendo of drums and riffs from each member come to an abrupt halt, the air of silence plays as if it was an instrument of its own. Black Country, New Road are able to utilise negative space consistently throughout the project. ‘Laughing Song’ also makes use of silence - “Because I let the best person I know // walk away // what does that say?”, an open invitation for the listener to reflect on this honest introspection. Following is ‘The Wrong Trousers’, a track that blends harmonies from Lewis Evans and Kershaw marrying what has come before it perfectly. Their voices blend together as their individual tones carry through to give the track dimension and gravitas.

To close the album there is a reprise of ‘Up Song’ and yet again the haunting lyricism of her vocal wafts over the track, with the question “look at what we did together” now being an enchanting and solidified statement. Closing with a reprise offers a moment of reflection, to look back on the live show and usher in the new era they’ve created for themselves. Kershaw has total control; every flicker of her voice acts as a guide for the instrumental accompaniments to follow. The stage is inarguably hers as the dust settles on the album for which listeners and the live audience can only applaud in awe of the show.

Live at Bush Hall’ was perhaps the most important release for the band to date. Not only have they proven their own adaptability but also the stamina they need to take advantage of the something special they so clearly possess. The word to use is balance, they find a rhythm, that knows when to hold back and when to let go with such precision. They’re comparable to an orchestra, using the grandeur of the instrumentation with spontaneity and rawness; things that are only heightened in the live setting. This album is larger in many ways to their previous but also, more intimate…the perfect balance.


Jessica McCarrick

Instagram: @jessmccarrick_

Image: ‘Live at Bush Hall’ Official Album Cover

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