Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Song Remains Not The Same - Black Label Society - 2011

Song Remains Not the SameZakk Wylde's Black Label Society's acoustic counterpart to 2010's solid Order of the Black, The Song Remains Not the Same lives up to its lengthy title, offering alternative versions of some of Order of the Black's tracks and, again like its name, offers a BLS-flavored homage to a few well-established rock and pop numbers. As opposed to the excellent Hangover Music, Vol. VI, though, TSRNTS seems to exist primarily as a part of a larger whole, not quite able to stand on its own against the rest of Wylde's catalogue.

Sticking solely to Order of the Black alternates, The Song Remains Not The Same may lose some potential oomph in that every fan can probably formulate a wishlist of Black Label Society numbers they'd rather see get the unplugged treatment than the four here ("Overlord," "Parade of the Dead," "Riders of the Damned" and "Darkest Days," the latter of which is offered again late in the album featuring John Rich and, somehow, works). Listening to both records, back to back, though, the contrasts are remarkable and this listener was quickly impressed not with the acoustic guitar but with the reminder of what an excellent, emotive pianist Zakk Wylde is as well.

The remainder of TSRNTS is comprised of covers: "Junior's Eyes," an excellent late-Ozzy-era Sabbath number, Neil Young's "Helpless," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" from Simon and Garfunkel and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." These are all fairly straightforward, well-done tributes and many reviews I have read range from surprised to dismissive, especially regarding "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Upon listening to these tracks and thinking on Zakk's relatively recent state of sobriety as well as the passing of his father, I was struck by the awareness that these tracks are as much for the singer as they are for the listener. The album closes with an instrumental "The First Noel" which, somehow, manages to also sound like "Dixie," hearkening back to the days of Pride & Glory.

The Song Remains Not The Same is very good but not great. It certainly is not the first record I would put in front of a would-be fan to win them over and it's nowhere near as self-contained and satisfactory as the aforementioned Hangover Music or even Book of Shadows. To be fair, though, it is EP-priced and has been well-publicized as a companion to Order of the Black and, frankly, I'd rather pick up an item like this separately than fall prey to the frequent industry double-dip that pressures a re-purchase of a "Collector's Edition" with a bonus disc. Approaching it an an informed and open-minded fan, it really is a pleasant, brief detour from the Black Label Society's heavy metal highway.

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