by Bradley Johnson
Deep Blue is one of those rare musical rides where listeners will scarcely notice the time it takes for the album to play all the way through. You will want to play this one from start to finish at least a few times just to take it all in. Nick Black’s second full length album careens artfully across the R&B and soul music map and crackles with the willingness to shake up the traditional routes most artists in this area take to reach their desired results. He’s around musicians willing and capable of following him wherever he wants to go. His co-producer on the album, Victor Wainwright, has been working with his band alongside Black in a live setting for some time and their chemistry is certainly one of the driving forces behind the success or failure of Deep Blue. Everything is here however. The songwriting is tightly calibrated and never overreaches its intentions. The individual and collection performances are studies in how to play this sort of music with the tastefulness and attentive approach it demands. Deep Blue succeeds in every way.
You will want to play this one from start to finish at least a few times just to take it all in.
Black, instead of relying on a gritty Delta blues styled sound or heavy guitar theatrics, prefers pursuing a highly stylized form of soul and R&B. It’s apparent from the album’s first track on. “Ocean” definitely has some recognizable and time-tested musical and lyrical themes, but Black’s gift is for mixing up those longtime tempos and sounds in fresh ways. He has fantastic voice with a theatrical tint – every song on Deep Blue finds Black turning in a fantastic performance because, if for no other reason, he’s extraordinarily able to embody the characters and speakers in the album’s songs. The expressive guitar playing never overstates its presence and brass audaciously leads the way. “Growups”, the album’s second song, is an excellent pairing with the opener as they exhibit the same boundless spirit. This song is stepping brightly out of the gate from the first notes on and it’s an inventive rewrite of the standard “wanting to get together with someone romantically/sexually” type of track with a suggestion of something more serious under its smirk. Another of the gems on Deep Blue’s first half is the song “Falling in Life” and it’s a thrill ride of groove-centered soul music with a funky bounce. Black and his band mates are unafraid to roll through a surprising selection of tempo changes and show off a sure hand throughout.
Deep Blue’s second half has some equally impressive moments. “Let’s Be Glad” is a brilliant approximation of American gospel that reaches far past the imitative realm and manages to capture something quite personal rather than biblical. “Reason to Stay” is probably the closest thing to an outright blues on Deep Blue and has echoes of the classic Chicago sound, but Black’s voice doesn’t have quite enough gravel to make that work like he perhaps intends for or hopes. “Don’t Leave Louise” might not suggest it on title alone, but it’s a deeply affecting ballad that depends on nothing but Black’s singing and piano for success. This intimacy is the reason why it works however – as a matter of fact, the song never misses. The album doesn’t either. Deep Blue is as impressive as second albums come and Nick Black’s upcoming 2017 third album promises, based on the quality of Deep Blue alone, to be a doozy.
9 out of 10 stars