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)

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