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Los Angeles-based singer Lady Blackbird’s buzzworthy full-length debut release brims with retro vibes and melancholy. The album heralds the arrival of an enigmatic vocalist who spent years searching across various genres before a partnership with producer Chris Seefried led the artist, formerly known as Marley Munroe, to reimagine herself. The rest, as they say, is history.
Black Acid Soul’s 11 meticulously curated ballads — seven covers and four originals — are drenched in the anguish of inconsolable heartache and a yearning for vindication. Scaled-back arrangements evoke brooding moods and the smoldering atmospherics of a bygone era, allowing space for Lady Blackbird to color her songs with the many shades of her rich vocal palette.
Backed by former Miles Davis pianist Deron Johnson, double bassist Jon Flaugher, drummer Jimmy Paxon, and Seefried on guitar, Lady Blackbird kicks off the set with a spellbinding rendition of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird.” The singer’s earthy tones contrast with the metallic underpinnings of her voice, teetering between control and surrender. Flaugher’s menacing bowed bass and Johnson’s ominously scattered accents on keys add to the sense of despair.
“It’s Not That Easy,” a ’60s Southern soul tune, soars despite the heaviness of Lady Blackbird’s tortured vocals, as pulsating piano chords punctuate crawling organ lines. “Fix It” is crafted around a contemplative two-chord motif made timeless by Bill Evans in his classic “Peace Piece.” But on this iteration, Johnson’s billowing piano swirls lift the song out of its rainy-day introspection as Lady Blackbird croons her lyrics with tender vulnerability.
Original track “Nobody’s Sweetheart” delicately sways with the slow-burning cadence of a waning love affair and features Trombone Shorty blowing plaintively on trumpet. The James Gang’s psych-rock deep cut, “Collage,” signals a shift in mood midway from pained nihilism to Lady Blackbird re-claiming her agency. And Tim Hardin’s wistful lament, “It Will Never Happen Again,” retains some of its bleary-eyed melodicism, amplified by lyrical, contemporary piano lines and Lady Blackbird’s unfettered singing.
The mostly instrumental title track closes the record in a freewheeling, psychedelic hodgepodge. Arco bass, percussive accouterments, smashing cymbals, drums and creeping electric organ are intensified by an ethereal choir that seems to rise from the ashes. Lady Blackbird is here to stay. — Lissette Corsa