Review: Silver Michaels

"The Soul Diaries"

Nick Black is thought of by most as one of the rising young stars in the Memphis music scene. Both as the guitarist for bluesman Victor Wainwright's band and as the frontman for his own neo-soul ensemble, Black has been delivering a healthy dose of quality music for some time now. As such, the release of his first solo recording has garnered a lot of attention and anticipation... and now that the album is upon us, it was well worth the wait!

While the album is very cohesive in feel and mood, it is anything but repetitious. The opening track (and also the first focus song of the release) "Confirmation" grabs the listener right away with punchy horns and an uptempo celebration of Black's intense love affair and devotion for music. Lines like "though the road I'm on will take me there/I'm in desperate need of transportation" convey both his commitment to making himself a continually better musician and the joy the search provides him; it's as fine an opening track as you could ask for.

From the punch and drive of the opener, Black segues effortlessly into "You & Your Love," an easy midtempo tune that reeks of summer and Memphis soul. I particularly like the vocal on this track; it showcases Black's tonal and emotional range nicely, and he plays himself perfectly off the production, again utilizing horns and an easy groove. I could easily see this track as a very solid summertime classic. Conversely, "Fairweather Friend" is an absolutely aching ballad. It's rare when a man can command such a broad range of emotion, but again, Nick delivers. The melody and words are a perfect lament wrapped in possibly the showcase production effort on the album.

Later in the album, "Sucker By Nature" reveals yet another side of Black's musical personality, a very slinky, urban-savvy piece of work that incorporates some of his strongest lyrics. The track benefits greatly from a variety of elements; the production again is top notch with a sort of ominous, mysterious edge to it, and the rap and backing vocals from Butta MD are a perfect compliment to the piece. I'd call this one my favorite, but I'm having a small problem... that being I've listened to this release several times now and found a "new favorite" with every listen.

The ebb and flow of feel and emotion continue throughout the rest of the release. Even having seen many of his performances, I'm amazed at the variety of styles Nick handles, and the ease with which he handles them. "Lover For Life" is another medium tempo summery ballad, and again it drips with soul (and some of my favorite guitar work on the album as well). The pendulum swings again with "Take It Back," another showcase for Black's slow ballad wizardry both in composition and performance. "Mockingbird" was almost a trip down memory lane, as it's the first piece I ever heard from Nick, thanks mainly in part to a very fine video that accompanied the song. Hadn't heard this in a while, and it's was nice to be reminded what a fine synthesis of pop, soul and pure raw emotion this is. No doubt on some days this will be the favorite...

Adding to my enjoyment of the record, I had the unique pleasure of witnessing four of the album's tracks created from point zero in the recording studio. My respect for Nick did nothing but grow during the process. His talent, his dedication, and yes, his pure love of music as a craft and as a lifetime companion became more evident with each passing track. Musicians love him, fans love him, friends love him...

...and I feel confident in stating that, given the chance and an honest listen, even total strangers will love this album. I thank you, Nick, for your friendship and all those fine qualities you exhibit; however, on this day, I thank you even more for "The Soul Diaries," as solid and timeless a debut album from an artist that I've had the pure pleasure of hearing in many a day!

- Silver Michaels, Memphis Music & Art Critic