This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 4/03
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Has Greg Brown gone a shade or two darker and playfully changed his name to Jeff Black? Well, you could've fooled me. That is how impressive this release is, the second for the Nashville-based Black. It's not that he actually sounds like Brown (although he does on a cut or two) but a number of his songs could easily take up residence in the Greg Brown songbook and be right at home.
A minimally but effectively backed offering, Black usually employs one dominant instrument per cut, alternating piano, guitar, drums and percussion, banjo and harmonica as his primary instrument. Add in his strong, smooth vocals, pleasing melodies and it's a winning recipe.
His primary subject matter is relationships, the ties that bind. In Black's hands, these ties are either woeful chains of the past or present or, on the flip side, loving, fulfilling connections. Only the better songwriters can keep such subject matter interesting. Black demonstrates his mettle as one of those.
His lyrics are impressionistically oblique in that each listener can ingest the same words yet spin off into different directions of interpretation.
"To Be With You" opens with:
"I may be borderlineAnd continues:
but all joy is mine
anytime I choose..."
"...I'm flying high aboveThe use of just banjo backing works exceptionally well in adding emotional content to "Gold Heart Locket," a song about a lost soul doggedly but futilely attempting to re-connect with a loved one.
these gridlocked streets
where the horizon meets
this timeless love
that I've forever known
but only as of late I've sown..."
Simply trying to hang on in "Cakewalk," Black sings:
"...now what's this feeling"Cakewalk" is followed by "Bless My Soul," a cut brimming with the protagonist's personal insights and epiphanies. A sample:
that you hold on to
it's hard to push
familiar things away
but if we make into something
that makes us feel better
well that's good enough for me today..."
"...and I see fair to warn youLet's us recount. Black can write, he can sing, he settles his songs in backings that add flavor.
that there's nothing
here to stop me
from drowning in the darkness
of the things I can't control
the angel near my heaven
that I know will always haunt me
is constant and convincing
I've a long long way to go..."
We don't know what me missed on the A Sides, but here's hoping Volume Two is in the works. The quicker the better.
Black on vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica and banjo, is backed by Byron House on bass; Craig Wright on drums and percussion; Michael Webb on bass; Jody Nardone on piano and David Jacques on bass.
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