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A Magazine for Sheffield

Black Country, New Road Live at Bush Hall

The south London collective’s new live album gives a snapshot of a band in flux, as shared responsibilities open up fresh lines of emotional inquiry.

Released: 24 March 2023
Live at Bush Hall

I rather liked BCNR’s second album, released little more than a year ago. Just months after its release, the departure of frontman Isaac Wood saw the remaining six-piece bravely tour a set of all-new material. But instead of replacing Wood like-for-like, the south London group scrapped the role of lead singer entirely, with Tyler Hyde, Lewis Evans and May Kershaw all taking stints on the mic.

This collective authorship is not the only novel aspect to Live at Bush Hall. The accompanying press release does nothing to suggest that these songs will ever be released other than on this live album, meaning there’s no ‘definitive’ studio version to refer back to, just a snapshot of each song’s evolution at a particular moment in time (namely, December last year).

There are many new colours in their palette. Kershaw’s two songs stand out especially – the achingly sweet ‘The Boy’ could be an old English folk ballad resurrected, while the piano-led ‘Turbines’ has the mercurial qualities of the best Kate Bush songs – the ones that feel like they would dissolve on contact with the outside world.

Lewis Evans’s ‘Across The Pond Friend’ is so wide-eyed it could’ve made the Heartstopper soundtrack, while opener ‘Up Song’ acts as a bolshy statement of intent: when the whole group chorus “Look at what we did together! / BCNR, friends forever”, it’s tempting to see it as them acknowledging what an astounding piece of work Ants from Up There is.

What’s remarkable about this album is not that it’s radically different to Ants, but that it marks a complete break from the band that released For the First Time only two years ago. The knotty structures, tense guitar work and anxiety-ridden lyrics that marked their debut have ebbed away entirely, replaced by an emotional openness and a sweetness that occasionally – and not dislikeably – borders on the naïve.