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Monday, December 17, 2012

Jeff Black - B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two

Jeff Black – B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2
2013, Lotos Nile Music
Jeff Black brings old school, road-warrior attitude into the digital age.  No stranger to the highways and byways, Black also uses his podcast, Black Tuesdays, to connect fans and try out new things.  The result is that Black has one of the most fervent followings in the alt-Americana genre.  Acknowledged as a top-notch songwriter, Black has had songs recorded by artists such as Alison Krauss, Waylon Jennings, Dierks Bentley, Sam Bush and Blackhawk.  Jeff Black returns on January 15, 2013 with B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2, and just like a train with cargo to deliver, Black shows no signs of slowing down.
The confessions begin with “All Right Now”, a musical monologue for a man who has gone through hell and come out the other side.  The folksy-blues arrangement is subtle and not overdone, allowing Black’s rough-hewn voice to hold sway.  It’s a compelling opening salvo. “Molly Rose” takes on the expected Celtic air in a tragic song of love and valor.  It’s a reminder that sometimes when you win you lose, and sometimes when you lose; you win.  Black’s deft handling of the vocal/story-telling is a master-class in the art of the singer-songwriter.  “Avalon” is about a man willing to forsake all for a magical world.  This quixotic quest plays out in spite of loved ones at home, and listeners can argue over whether the quest is noble or ill-gotten, the picture of a man obsessed to move heaven and earth to find a dream is crystal clear.
Black next settles into the plaintive tones of “Impala”, a quiet contemplation featuring Black’s voice intermingled with piano and guitar.  This ‘down’ moment has the air of quiet reflection, a moment not generally open to the air revealed here in song.  “Alice Carry” is a quiet reflection on love; marriage, family and a life full of memories.  Black brings the character of Alice alive here as a living, breathing person full of the spark of life.  Memories flow like laughter and tears, and the characters and places Black describes are palpably real.  “Days On End” has a listless feel – not the song but the character; a deep melancholy and fatalism descend over the song like a pall.  Artistically and musically this song is striking, though one of the quieter moments on the album.
“Miss Me” has a sort of trouble beauty to it.  It’s a song of apology from a man who went away and is finally finding his way home.  Reasons are hard to come by, but understanding of his needs descends all the same.  It’s a song full of human frailty and need from a man who is still trying to figure things out, but finally understands where he belongs.  Black gets down to an old-time country/folk feel that’s reminiscent of Bob Dylan in “A Evil Lesson Is Soon Learned”.  This entertaining number has a free-form feel that’s catchy, but Black doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of his story-teller’s pastiche in the process. 
“Good Old Days” is a song of wisdom, reminding listeners that these are the days we will one day look back on.  It’s a carpe diem message of sorts; a reminder to make the most of the moment so that when you look back to here one day it’s not with regret.  Black’s gritty vocal is the perfect match to a minimalist arrangement that nevertheless explodes with quiet energy.  “True Love Never Let Me Down” is a Springsteen-esque declaration of simple truths.  Black explores the song’s backwaters with a tumbling arrangement that seems to accentuate the thought behind the lyrics, but the declarative nature of the song and its repetitive theme lend power to the message.  “Remain” is another quiet reflection on simple truths.  Love and the ties that band are the powerful magic in this song, and Black navigates them as a man who never truly understands but appreciates the magic nonetheless.  B-Sides And Confessions, Vol. 2 closes with the contemplative strains of “Sunday Falling”, nicely wrapping the song cycle with memories of an idyllic Sunday afternoon.  Black paints pictures with words here that are hard to ignore.
Jeff Black brings gritty beauty and grace to a collection of memories, stories and observations on B-Sides And Confessions, Vol. 2.  If we’re never entirely clear on where the lines between memory, reverie and hope stand then nothing has been lost.  Black paints over the edges in seamless fashion, allowing the listener to suspend disbelief for an hour or so and simply be in the music.  This is, perhaps, a musicians’ greatest gift to his/her fellow man; the ability to transcend, suspend and simply be.  Black plies that gift, that talent, to perfect here.  B-Sides and Confessions, Volume 2 is nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
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