Nick Black - Deep Blue
There’s an amazing mix of power and beauty on Nick Black’s second album Deep Blue. He uses a lot of different instruments to achieve that effect, but the key elements on this release on his voice, guitar, horns, and keyboard color. His voice is placed up front in the mix, but the aforementioned contributions certainly play a crucial role in getting the song over for his target listeners. The guitar work never becomes too omnipresent – Black knows that overplaying in this soul and R&B style he co-opts will ultimately drag the music down and ends up in a creative dead end. There’s a sense of endless possibility surrounding Black’s music on this album and a feeling that he’s going for broke in attempt to take his work to another, higher level than before.
His instincts for making Deep Blue work are obvious from the start. Songs like “Grownups” and “Ocean” show, in some ways, the two primary competing elements in the album’s songwriting character. Black alternates between straight ahead tributes to the longstanding traditions of R&B, blues, and soul music while still aiming to upend those traditions with a risky approach to time signatures, tempo changes, and dynamics. The ultimate result is that Black has managed the impressive task of recording a much more substantive work in multiple genres without ever finding himself beholden to following one or two particular sounds each time out. While “Falling in Life” might be a funk soul potpourri of tempo shifts and deep grooves, “D.I.Y.” has less physical intentions and instead looks to invoke mood and introspection throwing slowing things down, stripping things back. There are only a handful of moments on Deep Blue that you might deem outright blues and this song is one of them. “Only One Man” is much closer to mainstream AOR rock in the sense that it makes much more pronounced use of dynamics and constructions the song from the ground up with different, interlocking sections tied together by often dramatic transitions.
“The Worst You Can Do” is cut from similar cloth and arguably enjoys much more success. The choice of opening with Black and acoustic guitar makes quite a difference in setting mood compared to earlier and later tracks on Deep Blue and the theme continues throughout the enter song. “Reason to Stay”, instead, represents the second of Deep Blue’s all out bluesy tracks. This isn’t far removed from the classic four piece format popularized by people like Howlin’ Wolf’s band or later blues rock bands, but Black’s touch never gets that heavy musically and instead merely echoes it. “Don’t Leave Louise” is the second and, arguably again, most commercial of the album’s two ballads. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is certainly the most imaginative and engaging of the two songs and, ironically, less studied. The naturalness that comes across will draw a lot of attention. It’s attention well deserved for a performer and album that’s sure to reassure and surprise many. To risk cliché, Nick Black is the real deal.
9 out of 10 stars