Nick Black – Deep Blue
Rarely do sophomore albums pack even this much wallop. Deep Blue is a ten song release that beams while single-handedly reinventing a classic soul and R&B sound for this young century. Great bands with powerful seconds albums litter popular music’s recording history, but there’s even more flops and failures. The pressures are immense and well chronicled. The artists/performers release career defining efforts the first time and the resulting commercial bonanza risks artistic paralysis or decay. Other artists, however, view the first album is a well-tuned dry run for brighter days to come. It’s the foundation and every release following it should expand on its possibilities. It should spur them to grow in standing, skill, and substance. Nick Black’s first album The Soul Diaries earned him praise from every quarter and he capitalized on its reception with small scale, but high profile, touring in the United States.. Deep Blue dives deeper than the first album in both songwriting and emotional investment. It also rollicks with appealing playfulness as well.
Deep Blue opens with a couple of quirky, but instantly identifiable, tunes. “Ocean” takes a lot of the common imagery of the love song and recasts it lyrically in a very distinctive way. Black sings it without any hesitation and the inspiration he brings to the song has an audible effect on the band. The brass, specifically, rings out from the mix and far surpasses the fine guitar fills in color and energy. “Grownups” is certainly one of the most inventive love songs that’s come along in years. Black captures a feeling of bright-eyed optimism with both his vocals and the lyric with a lightly bittersweet undertone that’s subtle, but there. There’s barely restrained energy powering the cut “Falling into Life” and the intelligent songwriting again gets a great treatment from Black. The brass playing is a consistent highlight across the entire album, but there’s equal praise due to the keyboards and drumming. Rarely do those instruments come together as compellingly as they do here. “Let’s Be Glad” is a song that might, initially, put some listeners off. Some might hear it early on as a overwrought invocation of the gospel tradition in American music while others will hear it as something quite credible. The backing vocals here, once again, make a big difference. Few, if any, will fail to appreciate the song’s second half when Black and his band mates tear into the track with every bit of the same attention to detail and tremendous gusto.
“The Worst You Can Do” has a great structure and it’s one of the album’s most affecting numbers. Black’s vocals takes great advantage of that structure without ever overdoing or ever trying to take anything away from the straight forward appeal of the arrangement. One of the album’s best songs, unquestionably, is the penultimate track “Don’t Leave Louise”, an impassioned, but well tempered performance with tremendous dramatic value. It’s quite a highlight so late in the release but it’s reflective of this album’s across the board quality. Deep Blue will grab many listener’s attention from the first and keep it for the duration of the album.
9 out of 10 stars