In the wake of the fabulous Order of the Black that Zakk and company unleashed upon us not too long ago comes this companion disc to that mammoth metal release. This time BLS gives you an almost unplugged set from the same sessions as Order of the Black. Using four originals from that disc then adding four more cover tunes and one Christmas carol, this is not what you would call must have material but the reworks of his own songs are mighty good and a couple of the covers are pretty cool in their own right. Adding "The First Noel" to the end well, guarantees that it will get pulled out each December.
The songs from Order of the Black each get a complete rework and listening to them makes me think of Alice In Chains and how dynamic their Unplugged disc was. Zakk manages to combine his acoustic with just a few tasty guitar solos but for the most part sticks to the piano and his acoustic guitar. "Overlord", "Parade of the Dead", "Riders of the Damned" and "Darkest Days" all become something completely different in this form. I will not say better or worse but they all will stand up against the versions you remember. They might not be the metal beasts he pummeled you with the last time around but instead he uses a much more subtle approach to wow you and it is very, very effective. "Darkest Days" which was the most laid back of these songs to begin with is the closest to the original but the slide guitar gives way to violins and he uses his much softer voice this time around. I would have to say that I prefer this stripped down version after hearing it even though I still love the original.
If you bought the digital version of The Order of the Black then you already have two of the cover songs that appear here. "Juniors Eyes" from Black Sabbath gets the Wylde treatment and comes out the better for it and he also gives a powerful version of the CSN&Y classic "Helpless". Along with this pair you get a very strange take on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" where he keeps the integrity of the original but some very un-Zakk like harmonies just don't make it. It is a little too much mush and sounds like something he might play as a request in a piano bar somewhere. He does redeem himself with a super rework of the Steve Winwood penned "Can't Find My Way Home". This is Zakk's tender side at it's best. Just a touch of his guitar magic really spices this one up!
The last two songs are really not what you would call songs that rank high in the Zakk Wylde songbook. You get another version of "Darkest Days" with John Rich from the country duo Big & Rich sharing vocal duties. This will just be a curio as both of the Zakk versions are much better. The album ends with the Christmas standard "The First Noel" with Mr. Wylde showing off on the acoustic guitar just a bit. It is a faithful rendition but I really wonder just what it is doing on here. I would have been happy without it.
All in all this is a very good disc of the softer side of BLS. It might not have the impact of his last offering but I really don't think it is intended to. Zakk proves that you don't have to be hard all the time and it is good to hear him in this context. I am glad I bought it and have to smile thinking that here is a Black Label Society disc that I and my mother can enjoy together!
2. Parade of the Dead
3. Riders of the Damned
4. Darkest Days
5. Juniors Eyes
7. Bridge Over Troubled Water
8. Can't Find My Way Home
9. Darkes Days (John Rich guest vocals)
10. The First Noel