Nick Black - Deep Blue
Nick Black’s first album, The Soul Diaries, likely rates as one of the most memorable debuts in a traditional soul and R&B music over the last decade or more. His second album Deep Blue picks up the gauntlet he laid down with the first and raises the stakes to dizzying heights. His songwriting invokes an array of styles over the course of ten songs twisting and remaking the genre in his creative image. All of the recognizable elements are here, but they’re charged to a white hot sheen thanks to the endlessly inventive arrangements and playing that characterizes the collection. Deep Blue has some impressive vocal pyrotechnics as well, but they are never gratuitous. Instead, Nick Black puts on a vocal clinic for fans of the genre and will undoubtedly mesmerize any fan of the genre who hasn’t heard him so far. This is a jewel of an album that deserves a wide hearing.
“Ocean” is a song that sounds like a young man reaching a turning point in his life. He doesn’t put any more emphasis into the song’s lyrics than what they need to succeed and they speak to the listener with such plain-spoken clarity that his approach can’t help but work. “Grownups” doesn’t rely on horns as much as the opener but it has much more outright bounce and a smile on its face from beginning to end. The guitar work is particularly tasty. “Falling in Life” rises from hushed grooves into rousing, full-blown crescendos without any disconnect in the transitions and packs an emotional punch that makes its lyrics quite believable. The first of the album’s two major ballads comes with the song “D.I.Y.” and it’s a much more bluesy exploration than the second cut. The slowly evolving arrangement is a classic move in the form, but the song never sounds like a simple paint by numbers exercise. Some of these younger artists who tackle older forms find great success thanks to their willingness to use the genre as a vehicle for genuine self expression rather than just paying half arsed tribute.
“Let’s Be Glad” is a rocking and fun nod to American southern gospel without ever being too slavish about it. Instead, Black gets this over in an unusually personal way that only increases during the song’s second half when the lyrics take on an even more intimate touch and speak with breathtaking directness. “Reason to Stay” is a bluesy barnburner that wouldn’t sound out of place from someone like Buddy Guy. Black owns every second of the song with his powerful, yet highly artistic vocal. His greatest moment as a singer on the album, however, comes with his performance of “Don’t Leave Louise”. Nick Black takes his time here, as if he’s consciously reaching for this to be the album’s big payoff moment, and if that’s the case, it works magnificently. This is stripped down and straight to the point compared to much of what’s come before and, as a result, connects with the audience in a much more direct way. Deep Blue covers an impressive gamut of emotional experiences and Black always sounds credible attempting to personify each one for listeners. This is a great effort and will be hard to better, but it’ll be interesting to hear Nick Black try.
9 out of 10 stars