Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin
Nick Black’s 2017 album Summer & Spring shows Nick Black continuing to add to his reputation as one of the best performers and musicians working in the R&B, soul, and blues genre today. His cross-sectional fluency covering multiple styles is topped off by first class vocal chops seemingly incapable of striking a wrong note; it’s an astonishing state of affairs when a twenty eight year old player and singer exhibits the sort of confidence and skill set we normally associate with a much older performer and, frankly, one from earlier generations. Black, despite his clear mastery of the idiom, is far from a retro performer and each of the thirteen songs on Summer & Spring is adorned with crystal clear recording virtues and a focus on serving the song first rather than providing a spotlight for any would-be virtuosos. The production and mastering talents of James Bennett and Brad Blackwood, respectively, are partly responsible for help Black shape this musical vision.
Black puts his best foot forward with the first song “Joy to the Girl”. This obvious single has a deliciously funky vibe without ever being so firmly ensconced in the genre that it’s rendered inaccessible to casual fans. Black makes liberal use of brass throughout the album and its presence on “Joy to the Girl” mitigates those funk influences in such a way that it makes the song even more palatable to a wider audience. The title song is another obvious choice for a single, particularly thanks to the stylish guitar work that gives it extra punch, and the wonderfully melodic vocal that Black unfurls for the audience is an equally involving listening experience. He shifts gears with the rambunctious jump blues stylings of “Nick at Night” and the album’s most overt attempt at humor works well because it has a superb musical attack and a confidence level that makes the performance intensely likable.
He dabbles a little with the blues on “Runaway Heart” and the impassioned vocal that he fills the song with never pushes the limits of believability. There’s none of the Sturm and Drang with his blues dalliance that too many young performers rely on when they tackle the style and, instead, he gives the song an elegant twist along with imbuing it with the required gravitas. “Neighbor” features the same horn section that’s added so much to earlier songs, but there’s less of an overarching R&B feel here and, instead, more of a play for AOR radio play and light rock tendencies. It’s cut much more from a Van Morrison kind of cloth then, for instance, Motown or Memphis. The hardest funk edge on Summer & Spring comes with the bubbling rhythms and tempo of “When the Morning Comes” and it plays, as well, like Black and his collaborators’ most challenging piece on the album. The one track on the release that you can peg as a retro inspired cut is the song “Dance in the Light”, but its flirtations with a funky edge give it sharp teeth and the production values are completely current in every way. “The River” ends the album on a muted note with some acoustic blues and foregoes the musical pyrotechnics defining so much of what has come before. This is an unified and coherent effort from an artist approaching the peak of his powers and you get the feeling that Nick Black is just getting started really. There’s nothing this guy can’t do.