Album Review

Amy Black Soars with "This Is Home"

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Amy Black opened for Rodney Crowell at several of his northeast tour dates last fall, then joined the Grammy winner on stage.  There she charmed the audience by performing one of his original songs, backed by Crowell on harmony vocals.  The two kept in touch after the run of shows ended, and Amy gratefully accepted Rodney’s input and advice on some of her own new music.  He was among those to receive an early listen to the freshly recorded tracks and had a reaction that did not strictly follow the King’s English.  Paraphrased and slightly less colorful, it was something like, “Girl, you sang your heart out!”

Yes, she did.  The star of  new album This Is Home  (February 2014, Reuben Records)  is Amy Black’s voice, warm and welcoming, soothing and seductive, a softly pillowed chair that cradles and envelops, reluctantly returning bare feet to a hardwood reality. Her voice is front and center throughout, filled with soul and tinged with country blues in fourteen songs that have been expertly produced by Lex Price.  These  showcase spare, but distinct instrumental support from guitarists Will Kimbrough and Oliver Wood, among others. The restraint used during production results in a pleasing complement of vocal and instrumental tones that subtly enhance the music.  Album track “Old Hurt”, for example, finds Amy’s bluesy vocal mirrored smoothly by overtones from a delicately plucked guitar string.  Oh yes, indeed.

There is also support from Kimbrough on vocal harmonies, heard clearly on the lovely “Alabama”, a song that celebrates Amy’s Muscle Shoals heritage.  Written  in memory and honor of her grandfather, the song  captures the sights and sounds of the land he always called home and where Amy continues to feel a special connection.  The vocal blend here is particularly nice, the melody warm and nostalgic, the lyrics among the most descriptive of the set as “The captain of the fireflies hollers out a battle cry” and “The lazy troops float aimlessly against a crimson sky.”

“Alabama” is one of eleven original tracks on the new album that describe the sweet and the sour, the joys and the challenges that come with the people and places that we each call home.  There are difficult topics addressed, topics intimately familiar to Black through family and close friends. “Hello” describes the hurt and frustration of the daughter faced with a father whose memory has been “swept away” by Alzheimer’s.  ”Stronger” is a song about choosing death, and the pain left behind.  ”Life Worth Fighting For” describes a relationship gone wrong and laments what could have been.  “Layin’ It Down” is a soulful tune about the men who dig the ditches, work the pipe line and put their lives at risk.  A favorite among the album tracks, the melody here is layered with a deliciously funky beat that compels the lyric from beginning to end.  The uptempo “Cat’s in the Kitchen” is a light, playful romp that assures a lover he may stay or go,  but the cat’s still in the kitchen, and well, “the dog’s sleepin’ on the couch.”

On her sophomore solo release, Amy’s songwriting is more personal, more reflective as compared to 2011′s One Time.  The soul in her voice is allowed free rein and leans to the blues, a direction that seems a natural and comfortable fit.   Black confirms that she is “really excited about where my music is going. I feel like I’m starting to see who I am as an artist solidify.  I want to make music with a lot of soul, but focused on the lyrics and musicianship.”  There’s more, though; Amy has a delightful undercurrent of sass in her voice.  It’s there in the title track on the 2011 release; it’s there in her live performance of “If the Law Don’t Want You” with Rodney Crowell.  Underplayed on This Is Home, there is simply more to come, other facets of her talent ready to be explored.

In Amy’s own words, home is that special place where “no matter where you’ve been or how much time has passed, there’s nothing that feels the same.”  That connection takes root in album track “I’m Home”, and the video produced from that first single features Black’s own family – husband, sister and parents.   The only actors are the dogs, recruited locally!  With this new album,  Amy has made a significant commitment to her growing career in music, a commitment shared by her family.  She is now a full-time musician, having left the security of a steady paycheck to devote her full energy and attention to making and performing music.  Her upcoming performance schedule includes CD release shows in the Boston area on February 7 and 8, in Nashville on February 11 and 13, and in Tuscumbia, Alabama with Spooner Oldham, David Hood and Shannon McNally on February 15.  More details are available here.  This is Home will be available for purchase at the shows, and can also be ordered via Amy’s website and on iTunes.

The eleven original songs shared on This Is Home are supplemented by John Prine and Rodney Crowell covers and a bonus gospel track.  Amy’s version of Crowell’s “Still Learning How to Fly” is the last album track for a reason.  The lyric “You ain’t seen nothing yet, I’m still learning how to fly” hits home for this Americana artist. “That’s how I feel about my music,” says Amy, “and it’s exciting to feel that way.”  With this new album, Amy Black has already begun to soar.