Friday, 29 April 2011

The Black Lillies - Whiskey Angel/100 Miles of Wreckage

The Black Lillies Thesis

Whiskey Angel
, and the most recent 100 Miles of Wreckage, exemplify all that's good with country/americana [to direct towards a style] but I'd want to stress that it's simply brilliant music - whatever the tag - with accomplished musicianship, rock-solid songwriting, and glorious harmony vocals.

It's the same with both albums, but starting with their debut, I guess you have to have an affinity for rather than aversion to Country steel and strings because that is a powerful underpinning feature. Opener Whiskey Angel posit its other Country requisites with banjo and fiddle, along with steel guitar, but it's the close harmonies that impress immediately. Second track See Right Through is a slower acoustic number with Cruz Contreras' solid vocal again ably supported by Leah Gardner's backing: superb songwriting. There's Only One heightens the pace with electric bottleneck blues guitar, whilst Goodbye Mama Blues returns to ol' time country roots a la Old Crow Medicine Show. Indeed, it's natural to search for echos and precursors and here it would always be a compliment to find complementary suggestions, so I would also mention Buddy and Julie Miller if you wanted a similar reference point before deciding for yourself with an actual listen. Another significant track is Where the Black Lillies Grow and the song mirrors the title with its slow brooding burning growing to ignited emotive ending.

When released in 2009 it garnered plenty of deserved accolades and these are fully justified through the recent follow-up album 100 Miles of Wreckage. This is more of the same - again, a simple but strong compliment - and songs like The Arrow already sound like classic country balladry [with the Buddy and Julie Miller reference apt again]. A track that has already broken into my all-time favourites is Tall Trees where Contreras' vocal is particularly pleasing, performing at a slightly higher register than normal, and the song is really a two-parter where half-way through it breaks into quite a traditional thumping country standard, this time a la Don Williams, and which places the title '100 Miles of Wreckage' as a key line, but it is the sustained 70s rock guitar lick seeing out the song that nails it for me. The album finishes on a genuinely pretty lullaby Go To Sleep - and if you can get away with this so endearingly there has to be a bedrock of musical credibility and I think this supports my thesis, presented elsewhere, that such 'country' artists are so often at the vanguard, or at the very least sustaining, of the writing and performing of some of the best current music.

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