Jeff Black,
Tin Lily
(Dualtone, 2005)

What is a "tin lily"? We can envision a few pieces of petal-shaped metal welded together to fashion a candle holder, one designed to reflect the soft light of the flame. According to Jeff Black's website, the musician's songs are similar in plan. "They start in a personal place, often hidden back in the darkness, yet they always strive to illuminate. He's a burly, bare-knuckled, blue-collar son of the Missouri plains with dark Irish blood who digs into tough topics with a gentle heart. There's nothing predictable about a Jeff Black lyric other than it will be sung robustly and it will head towards hope instead of dwell on despair."

Tin Lily is Black's fourth album and is made up of haunting lyrics, solid melodies, punchy vocals and non-formulaic chord progressions. His rock guitar technique and steady voice are accompanied by a small cohesive group of musicians that provides a complete instrumental picture. This music isn't presented like a front man with a band; it's an ensemble that happens to have talent leading it.

The all-original compositions include "Easy on Me," "Nineteen," "Libertine," "Hard Way Out," "Closer," "Heaven Now," "These Days" and "A Better Way." "Free at Last" is a toe-tapping and inspirational freedom song. From the lyrics, it's difficult to tell whether they refer to release from a hometown or from a girl, but the point almost doesn't matter. "All Days Shine" gives us a good outlook on life: "All days shine / Underneath the rust / Over the fall of time / All days shine."

The lily motif doesn't show up until late in the lineup, in the tune "How Long," which also interjects a few modest Christian references. Perhaps "Hollow of Your Hand" offers the standout sentiment: "Oh I am wealthy by / The measure of where I'll be in time / Love has thrown a light / Across the shadows of this land / Living in the hollow of your hand." Peppy or pensive, these songs are simply examples of good old American rock, made contemporary. Occasional Young- or Dylan-like harmonica phrases add a further hearty touch.

Being just a few years younger, Jeff Black could easily be a musical representative to succeed Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen, rising up from Middle America instead of the crowded East Coast. This album sounds as if he's well on his way.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Corinne H. Smith

17 May 2008

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