I received my cd copy of The Black Lilies’ latest Runaway Freeway Blues this morning, sent in addition to the vinyl I ordered as part of the Pledge Music project they and many other bands now employ to assist with and advertise planned/hopeful recordings. In this download age and therefore easy but aloof access to music, I think this is a clever way to allow fans to engage with and feel, however small the actual impact, some connection in supporting a band.
This third studio album continues the stellar musical trajectory of their previous work [reviewed here], especially immediate predecessor 100 Miles of Wreckage, and pedal steel therefore infuses the many delicate songs on this release, narrative and melody aligned thoughtfully and atmospherically, and on a track like fourth Goodbye Charlie, the storytelling peaks in tandem to the pained grind of guitar above this layer of calm. Elsewhere, the consummate musicianship is sustained with a rousing guitar and harmonica combination on the Country stomper Smokestack Lady, and this is further enhanced by the vocal partnership of Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady that invokes Johnny and June – not so much in sound but in spirit.
That vocal dueting and the whole bands’ superb musicianship – this invoking as well, for example, Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show, cited as an absolute compliment – have their Country genealogy and thus fit a pattern, but it is the quality of this which distinguishes rather than simply reflects. Seventh track Ruby is the quintessential band track, an Americana/folk tale about getting Ruby out of jail and drinkin’ corn liquor – so a rabble-rouser of sorts, Tom Pryor’s guitar scorching an empathetic tone – when at just over three and a half minutes into the song, the tempo slows to a gorgeous calm of acoustic guitar with weeping overlay, and then builds again to a tempestuous and virtuoso guitar out. Brilliant.
There is a horn assisted and uptempo jaunt with penultimate track Baby Doe, those horns blasting bursts through the funky core. This is contrasted with largely acoustic closer Glow, pedal steel again wafting its sweet infusions. There is an echo of Mathews Southern Comfort in its countryfolk gentility, a tender and pleasing decorum upon which to bow out on another fine album of sustained excellence.