Nick Black – Deep Blue
Nick Black’s second full length studio release, Deep Blue, consolidates and builds on the promise of his 2012 debut The Soul Diaries. It’s a ten song release that roams wide and energetically through soul, R&B, and blues textures with astonishing confidence considering the risks it sometimes takes confounding the expectations of the genre’s fans. Nick Black and his backing band don’t just take quick jaunts through some expected R&B and soul music poses with the blues liberally sprinkled in. The songwriting on Deep Blue, instead, confidently glides through shifting tempos, staccato textures, and a variety of arrangements that bristle with imagination and inspiration alike. His vocals, likewise, have a confidence level that belies his age – his voice has bell-like clarity and a tremendous range that never shows off for the sake of showing off alone. Deep Blue will stand for some time as a resounding example of how a talented performer can take forms that often some moribund through repetition and make them sparkle with newfound originality.
Black’s work with musicians the quality of his Victor Wainwright pays off big time on songs like “Ocean”. This is post-modern guitar soul with brass playing full of personality and vigor topped off by a killer and totally individualistic singer. There’s few frames of reference for what Black is capable of. Deep Blue shows him off in multiple ways, all of them equally convincing, and “Ocean” shows him invoking great gentleness, innocence, and wanting with his wide ranging voice. A more traditional band oriented attack controls the album’s second track “Grownups” and de-emphasizes the brass to more of a role providing color. The guitar work gives this track a lot of its beaming quality – it sounds positively buoyant and unabashedly heartfelt. Black belts out the lyric with an amazing combination of vocal dexterity and just the right amount of passion. “Falling in Life” has a delicious funky edge without ever being too strident. The guitar work is particularly important to pulling this off, but the horns pack a lot of punch too. Songwriting takes priority once again on the song “Only One Man” as Black’s vocal paints an excellent picture of the song’s narrator.
One of the finest and most deeply felt moments on Deep Blue comes with the song “Let’s Be Glad”. It gathers momentum over time before evolving into something special – the song’s opening half is relatively unremarkable in some ways, but a near picture perfect transition into the song’s second half finds both the arrangement and lyric taken on new emotional complexity and musical excellence. “Reason to Stay” is a much more straight R&B brawler with Black delivering a performance with just enough swagger to lead the song ahead. Deep Blue comes to a perhaps surprisingly funky end with the track “All Over Again” and Black’s fleet footed vocal never pushes too hard on his voice and instead rides this tiger of an arrangement until its rousing finale. It’s impossible to not like an album this. Nick Black performs with such wide open, enjoyable verve that it makes Deep Blue glow brightly from the first.
9 out of 10 stars