Back in the mid 90’s I worked at a local record store. When Seattle was in full swing there was this one customer always coming in to sell old CD’s to buy new releases. He had the proper grunge uniform of shaved head, goatee, and Doc’s. The CD’s he brought in were all the 80’s hard rock bands; Poison, Winger, Motley Crue, etc. Our store always required someone to show their ID. On his drivers license his picture was of him in full Cure’s Robert Smith attire. In other words he was just playing dress up or trend hopping. You saw it with bands too. They cut their hair and got “more serious” to fit in the Nirvana world. Now this was not an anomaly as bands have kept doing that. With the rise of 70’s rock/Southern rock influenced acts; Scorpion Child, Rival Sons and so forth. Guys that were dabbling in modern rock or whatever genre Octane is playing, are now buying bell bottoms and Orange amps.
And that brings us to Black Bear and their album Rock From The Woods. Judging from the band name and the cover, a walking bridge in the woods, I was expecting some Southern twinged rockin’. However, just like the guy selling CD’s we have some guys playing dress up. You can tell something is fishy from jump street. Album opener “We Are Black Bear” is just Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” except they just replace American band with Black Bear. This would be cute as the last track but since it’s the first, just silly. Unfortunately the aping of a classic rock band does not end there as they lift from The Doors “Roadhouse Blues” on “Uncle Vic”. Even rappers would think it was excessive.
That track is the epitome of what is wrong with the album. The guitarist seems to latch onto a cliché 70’s guitar lick and beat it to death. Besides the unoriginality, it is usually done very poorly. A simple 4 note fill sounds as if I was playing it. Then there is the vocalist. He just doesn’t have the swagger or soul to pull off this music. Most of the time he sounds like he is really struggling. I learned the band is from Milan so that cultural disconnect is a problem.
Now the odd part of Rock From The Woods is many of the songs are flat out modern rock. And surprisingly, their good too. “Time” is a really tremendous song. A mid-tempo slow builder that pulls you in as its plays. “Ghost of You” is a fist pumper that would easily slide in regular rotation on modern rock radio. Same with “Never Easy” a nice ballad that once you get past the horrible guitar fills in the first minute is rather good.
European bands playing distinctively American styles is nothing new. There seems to be a part of Finland that is forever 1987 Sunset Strip glam rock. Just like some of those bands, Black Bear may love the music they try to play but it doesn’t translate.
Rock From The Woods seems a bit bi-polar with its’ conflicting styles. Yet when its’ good, its’ good. Hopefully Black Bear will decide on who they are.
Final rating, I’d be happy paying…
$14.99-Regularly Priced CD
$9.99-Download from iTunes or Amazon purchase
$5.00-wait for Amazon to have it on a MP3 sale
$1.00-finding at a flea market, car wash, or pawn shop
$0-Not worth the drive space