Music You Don't Know You Like Yet
2011-04-24Nick's Picks: 04 Three In The Mornin', 09 Tall Trees FCC ALERT: Not on this cd Review of The Black Lillies 100 Miles of Wreckage The Black Lillies on first blush apppear to be a well-coordinated country/bluegrass band, performing excellent music and listenable lyrics. After listening for awhile, I am more inclined to call this sophomore release from Cruz Contreras to be some of the finest writing and performing of original music in quite awhile. He really seems to be able to cross genres at a moment's notice, while holding on to a “country twang”. His band-mates are equally talented, and really know how to “get-down” bluegrass style (“Two Hearts Down”), and from there directly on to “cryin' in your beer” country (“The Arrow”) – complete with the lonesome wail of the steel guitar. The next cut segues into what I would call a Country ballad (“Same Mistakes”). What amazes me is the band's ability to jump from the easy pace of “Same Mistake” right into what seems to be a bluegrass standard (“Three In The Mornin'”). I say “seems to be” because I believe that if this group gets national recognition, this will be the song to propel them on the bluegrass charts. Oh, and did I mention that all thie songs on this cd were recorded live? Things move right along when we get hit between the eyes with a quasi-honkey-tonk number (“Nobody's Business”). Although this puts a strain on the listener's patience due to the repetition, it does demonstrate the versatility of the songwriter, as well as the prowess of the band members. To continue their trip across the breadth of the Country genre, we are treated to Cruz' take on a good man falsely charged (“Shepherd's Song”), spending a long time in prison only to get near the end - well, I won't spoil the storyline. Brings to mind Johnny Cash singing “The Long Black Veil”. We will skip past the next cut – another honky-tonk tune, to become acquainted with a different genre – folk (“Soul Of Man”). My favorite song on this cd, though, has to be “Tall Trees” not only for the top-notch songwriting, but the all too brief string solo – outstanding! Another honky-tonk song (“Ain't My Fault”) falls into the she-done-me-wrong-so-I'm-drinkin'-myself-to-death-song with a cheeky sense of humor. To close out the set, we are treated to the feeling that the songwriter and band might have traveled from a simpler time when life really was just broken hearts and an old dusty trail (“Go To Sleep”). All around excellent listening!! My two nickels................Nick ARTIST BIO: Cruz Contreras: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Piano, Rhodes Piano; Trisha Gene Brady: Vocals, Percussion; Jill Andrews: Vocals; Tom Pryor: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Pedal Steel Guitar, Electric Guitar; Billy Contreras: Fiddle, Piano, Strings; Kyle Campbell: Banjo, Pink Uke, Ukelele; Taylor Coker: Electric Bass, Upright Bass; Jamie Cook: Electric Guitar, Drums, Percussion; Ian Thomas: Harmonica Whiskey Angel was born from the ashes of one career, and shortly after its release, the East Tennessee music scene learned quickly that Cruz was as much of a bandleader as his ex-wife was when he stood in her shadow. In fact, Whiskey Angel made you forget there was ever anything for Cruz Contreras before The Black Lillies – the band that he brought together to record an entire album over the course of a weekend in his living room. The Black Lillies take their name from a song on that first record. After filtering through several lineup changes, Cruz assembled a crackerjack team of pickers, players and singers who have what it takes to put meat on those songs. Tom Pryor made a name for himself playing pedal steel for damn near any band that could talk him into it; drummer Jamie Cook anchored the rhythm section for Americana darlings the everybodyfields; harmony vocalist Trisha Gene Brady can wail like a hellcat or purr like a wildcat, and everybody who’s heard her sing agrees it only makes sense that someone with her pipes can provide the perfect counter-balance to Cruz. Bassist Robert Richards is the latest addition to the band, and under his steely-eyed gaze, no bass, stand-up or electric, stands a chance. And then there’s the bandleader himself. Standing in front of the pack, he guides his team with the dignified aplomb of those greats of old – Buck Owens with the Buckaroos, or Bob Wills commanding his Texas Playboys. He knows how to work the crowd, at ease behind the mic, in front of a piano or caressing the necks of a mandolin or guitar. In fact, it’s rare for Cruz to be presented with an instrument he doesn’t play, and everything he does finds its way gently worked into The Black Lillies’ aesthetic with all the swirls and flourishes of brush strokes on canvas laid down by a master painter. With Whiskey Angel, The Black Lillies established themselves, and it didn’t take long for them to make their mark on the national scene. They kicked off their first national tour at the Ryman Auditorium, the hallowed mother church of country music, and have since labored through three cross-country treks, with a fourth planned for the summer of 2011. They’ve performed on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage and on two episodes of PBS’s Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s, and they’ve conquered numerous festivals – Pickathon, the Americana Music Association Festival, Four Corners Folk Festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots, even Bonnaroo. Along the way, the scribes who keep tabs on what’s worth listening to in this day and age have taken quite a shine to Whiskey Angel. It topped 2009 best-of lists across the country and is currently nominated for Best Americana Album by the Independent Music Awards. It isn’t uncommon for listeners to say that the music has taken hold of their soul. It’s earthy and gritty and melancholy in a way old mountain music was a century ago, speaking of pain and love and revenge and revelry with such spirit, such genuine celebration and sorrow, that it seems to be an album carved out of the planks of a backwoods cabin abandoned during the Great Depression more than a thing recorded in a living room studio by one man. And as good as it is … as great as it is … it’s a drop in the bucket, because 100 Miles of Wreckage is here. The sophomore record takes what Cruz built in Whiskey Angel and fortifies it, a rustic sound without name and place, unbeholden to geographic region or easy classification. It’s an album crafted with precision and care by musicians who are masters of their trade, who believe in The Black Lillies’ vision and who hold fast to the notion that good music – music with heart and purpose and purity of spirit — is still a valued commodity. Excerpted from an article By Steve Wildsmith, The Daily Times
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