George Ward
George Ward

Freelance journalist based in Bristol. Can be found at the Grain Barge, Rough Trade or in his tiny basement bedroom writing for CLUNK.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With this new live album, Black Country, New Road capture a specific moment: one of uncertainty, experimentation and nostalgia.

For this project, the band have changed their sound up yet again, although for very different reasons to the last time. When Isaac Wood announced his departure from the band days before ‘Ants From Up There’, I had no idea where the band would go from here. ‘Live at Bush Hall’ proves that we had nothing to worry about.

Recorded over a three night residency at Bush Hall, London in December, the record consists of entirely new material, with vocal duties split over several of the band members. This experiment is where much of the project’s character comes from. Tyler Hyde’s (bass) vocals are raw, shaky and emotional while May Kershaw’s (keys) are fragile and beautiful. We even have two wonderfully dramatic tracks led by Lewis Evans’s (sax) crooning vocals. 

Despite this range in vocalists, the album never feels like each member is competing to become the lead vocalist. Instead, it feels like, with each track, a different member is given their chance to tell their story in a way that is unique to them. 

May’s tracks are particularly effective at this storytelling. ‘The Boy’ is a whimsical folk song, whose chapters and animal characters feel like a fable, told beautifully by Kershaw’s innocent vocals. In ‘Turbines/Pigs’, her voice is even more fragile and the lyrics even more heartbreaking: “Don’t waste your pearls on me, I’m only a pig.” When the song reaches its climax, the band somehow recreate the same emotional energy that they achieved on ‘Ants From Up There’. 

‘Live at Bush Hall’ is a great example of how to move forward without forgetting where you came from. Nostalgic lyrics scattered throughout the project reminisce on what the band have achieved, like on the jubilant opener ‘Up Song’: “Look at what we did together, BCNR friends forever!” It sounds corny written down, but when the performances are as sincere and heartfelt as these, these moments feel extremely special. 

For every familiar moment like the exhilarating climax of ‘I Won’t Always Love You’, reminiscent of their debut album, there’s a moment like ‘The Wrong Trousers’, whose back and forth vocals sound straight out of a musical: yet another new direction for BC,NR.

The band have mastered how to switch up their sound without isolating their fans and, while this project may have been an experiment into how they would survive without their vocalist, it doesn’t feel rushed or forced. Instead, it’s a beautifully sincere project that showcases why each and every member deserves to be in a band as exciting as Black Country, New Road.

Listen to ‘Live at Bush Hall’ here: