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Spotlight on: Jeff Black
B-Sides and Confessions: Volume One

Jeff Black, B-Sides and Confessions: Volume One

Though this is certainly taking the easy way via cliche, I have to say that if Jeff Black's new album is truly comprised merely of b-sides and confessions, then I am going to love it when he puts out an album of what he considers "A-sides" because this is some of the best songwriting I have heard in years.

"Slip" begins by inadvertently reminding the listener of "All My Loving," not, in any other case, an auspicious beginning. But the triumph of the song is that the listener immediately forgets about the Beatles and instead pays attention to Jeff Black and his Joe Cocker voice. The Cocker comparison is less on the next song, "Same Old River," but the singing mixes with the guitar to bring out the yearning of the lyrics.

Michael Webb's heavy bass punctuates "Holy Roller" and makes it groove. If your head hasn't started bobbing before now, this will make it. Add that to the visual of "Farrakhan and Jerry Falwell were playing tic tac toe" and you come out with a classic song. Black's voice is similar to Randy Newman here, which fits the mood. It seems incomplete as it ends abruptly, but it's still the best song on the album.

"Sunday Best" doesn't really do it for me, but "To Be with You" more than makes up for it, evoking Glen Campbell at his best. Joey Nardone's piano, Craig Wright's brushing drum, and Jeff Black's understated guitar all blend into a "traveling" sound that adds another layer to the lyrics, as if he is already on his way to her.

Banjo surprises pleasantly on "Gold Heart Locket." Black sure knows how to pick the right instrument for his songs. The banjo makes a sad song more tolerable; it's hard to be sad when you're hearing that happy plunking sound. Plaintive piano marks the beginning of "Cakewalk," then the fingers move to the left for a deeper sound and "Bless My Soul's" thrumming guitar reaches down inside you to pull out a little bit of Leonard Cohen. "Bastard" is a weaker "high-concept" tune about Joe Clark, but "Higher Ground" ends the album beautifully. Harmonica, bass, drums, and guitar are layered into a true foot-tapper.

I didn't like the ones that feature the piano, but this is a minor complaint because the bulk of Jeff Black's B-Sides and Confessions: Volume One leaves the listener feeling as satisfied as after a really good meal.

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