Black Dub: Black Dub

RIYL: Daniel Lanois, Chris Whitley, Robbie Robertson

In 1990, Daniel Lanois was instrumental in getting Chris Whitley signed to Columbia Records; his keyboard player and production protégé, Malcolm Burn, ended up producing Whitley’s stellar debut, 1991’s Living with the Law, and Lanois maintained an association with Whitley throughout the late, great alien bluesman’s career (that’s Lanois’ ghost-webbed lead guitar on the Whitley track “Weightless”). Chris passed away in 2005, but his daughter Trixie has grown into a fine singer and recording artist in her own right – and now she’s carrying the Whitley/Lanois connection into a new generation as a member of Black Dub.

Lanois is Black Dub’s guitarist and producer, as well as the most famous name – the lineup also includes drummer Brian Blade and bassist Daryl Johnson, names that will be familiar to liner notes junkies and few others – so it’s understandable that he’ll get the lion’s share of the publicity spotlight for this release. And to be fair, his sonic thumbprint is all over Black Dub; it’s a thick, reverb-drenched record, heavy with vibe and run through the dark, sepia-toned filter he’s used for many of his best projects. But make no mistake, this is a band project – not just because Trixie Whitley’s throaty, gospel-tinged vocals are all over the record, but because it actually sounds like people playing together in the same room. The music might be covered with that Lanois blanket, but that only keeps it warm. This record moves and breathes. It’s a shame that these are such rare qualities in major-label rock music, but if you miss the sound of musicians working together, Black Dub is a cure for what ails you.

More importantly, the songs are some of Lanois’ best. His solo albums have plenty of high points, but they’re also littered with more than their share of filler; in contrast, Black Dub holds together as a cohesive whole, from the sort of frayed, abstract blues meditations that the elder Whitley might have recorded (“Ring the Alarm”) through slow-burning vocal showcases for Trixie (the torch ballad “Surely”) and sideways roots excavations (the “Wade in the Water”-lifting “Last Time”). Lanois says Black Dub came together after he started writing songs with Trixie Whitley in mind, and it’s obvious that having a new muse has energized his songs – but it’s had an impact on him as a performer, too, as evidenced by his lead vocal on the album’s most moving track, “Canaan.”

Whitley has a recording career of her own, and Lanois is always busy as a producer (not to mention restless), so there’s no telling when, or if, Black Dub will reconvene. Having a hit with their debut couldn’t hurt, though, so do your part and pick up a copy today. (Jive 2010)

Black Dub MySpace page


Gavin DeGraw Lets Loose With Stripped-Down LP, Free

Gavin DeGraw, Free
One of the many undeniable appeals of New York singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw is his sultry, soulful voice, layered with a raw poignancy and surprising sincerity, that’s effortlessly wound around every melody to seep through his lips.  The J Records superstar has been on a decidedly major-label track since his debut release Chariot in 2003, and made the choice to scale back the production on his latest LP, Free.  DeGraw told Billboard,

“I just wanted to make a legitimate record, an artist’s record for an artist’s fans.  I didn’t want to saturate the tracks with overdubs and flying guitars and unicorns and shit. I wanted to keep everything out of the way and allow the songs to really be about what the songs are fundamentally, which is music and lyrics.””

The result is a ten-song deep journey into DeGraw’s soul that may not find a place on the charts immediately, but will definitely satiate even the pickiest of fan pallets. wrote,

“While making “Free” DeGraw reached back into his catalog to include early compositions such as “Dancing Shoes” and “Glass,” which have not been released but have become fan favorites through his live shows. He also finished a couple of songs, “Mountains to Move” and “Stay,” in the studio, [and] covered the late Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer” as the album’s opening track.”

The combination of old material and newly reconstructed studio tracks suits DeGraw perfectly, and certainly lends to his credibility as a songwriter.

Free begins with a cover of the late Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer,” a song that Entertainment Weekly called, “slow-burning.” There’s definite passion in DeGraw’s vocal that carries magnificently to the other nine tracks.  The title track follows with heartfelt lyrics like, “I am heartbreak and romance/the feather and the stone/I feel crowded/and alone/and I wanna be free…” His voice is pristine on Free but there’s still a sexy edge that leaves you wanting more.

The unfortunate draw-back to Free is the lack of tempo change.  Song after song is undeniably passionate and from the heart, but there’s little excitement in the arrangements, save a few shining moments on, “Lover Be Strong.”

DeGraw did manage to save an old gem for this record that’s reminiscent of Mark Cohen’s, “Walkin’ In Memphis.”  “Dancing Shoes” begins with a delicate piano and escalates into one of the only piercing hooks on the record.

While this may not be an official follow-up to hi 2008 release, Gavin DeGraw has proven his staying power with Free.  The label surprisingly supported it, critics seem confused by it, but fans love it, and in a world without frills that’s all that matters.  DeGraw’s brooding melodies and soulful expressiveness have satiated pop/rock appetites with for years, and Free is no exception.  A little old school, a dash of new, and heaping spoonful of authenticity makes this relaxed-fit album the perfect addition to his catalog.

If you’re into smooth melodies and passionate lyrics, make sure you check out this album, and please, do yourself a favor and give it more than just one listen.  Free is definitely worth it.


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