deep blue

Vents Magazine Review

Modern soul and R&B doesn’t get any better than this. Nick Black isn’t content, however, to just regurgitate genre clichés on his second album Deep Blue. This ten song release goes far beyond giving an approving nod to the past and, instead, uses the genre as a vehicle for musical exploration without ever lapsing into imitation. Many of the album’s songs stretch the audience’s expectations of typical sonic textures in this type of music and plays with dynamics, tempo, and rhythm in surprising ways. The surprise, however, will leave few listeners squirming or uncomfortable. Instead, older fans of the genre will come away from this release deeply impressed by Black and his band’s seemingly endless ingenuity. There’s no doubt that Black and his cohorts slaved mightily to make this come out so good, but there’s equally little doubt that they make it sound effortless, as if there’s songs were written minutes before they committed them to recording.

“Ocean” takes some potentially stilted sentiments and makes them all its own. The brass section is prominent on this track and it’s striking and unusual how well the guitar work complements their boisterous color. This is, of course, due to the restraint shown from both instruments. There’s some piano interspersed with the arrangement adding another strain of color. Black’s vocal, utterly lacking self-consciousness and technically beautiful, never overshadows the music and, instead, weaves itself fully into the fabric of the song. There’s an unusual child-like beauty in the second track’s deceptive simplicity. “Grownups” is one of the most endearing recent songs in a classic tradition – sexually wooing rarely comes off so sly, yet never lasciviously. This kind of likability and upswing is hard to pull off without lapsing into cliché, but Black makes it all impressively snap. He fully gives himself over to the lyrics in such a way that there’s nothing unduly coy and the musicians wrap it up with confident, freewheeling spirit. The effect isn’t as prominent on the song “Falling in Life”, but the lyric turns on a neat enough little inversion for its chorus and the concept driving the song’s subject matter may be familiar, but Black definitely brings the same distinctive touch he has a musician to bear often on the lyrics.

Modern soul and R&B doesn’t get any better than this.

A twinkling piano flourish opens “D.I.Y.” before the ballad begins in full. Keyboards and well placed, stripped down drumming primarily carry the song, but warm dollops of guitar splash across its surface. The vocal shows the same patience the band exhibits and an immense willingness to caress the potentially formulaic lyrics with enough emotive fire to make them greater. “Let’s Be Glad”, naturally, diminishes the soul and R&B flavors dominating the album in favor of a much stronger gospel feel than heard on the earlier tracks. The song’s second half picks up the tempo and Black takes over with a much higher gear, great backing vocals, and powerful lyrics he conveys without a hint of irony or over-emphasis. Acoustic guitars come in for the opening of “The Worst You Can Do” and Black attunes his voice to its needs with impressive results. The personal aspect suggested by the second to last track “Don’t Leave Louise” raises its stakes higher than more generalized lyrics might have and Black takes advantage of that with a vocal that grabs the heart. Grabbing your attention is the order of the day for Nick Black’s Deep Blue, but prodding your emotions is something more. Deep Blue covers all of the bases.

Razorfish Review

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 


"This album is exactly what makes Memphis proud."

One of Memphis’ busiest musicians is Nick Black.  Whether he’s backing up Victor Wainwright on tour, playing guitar at South by Southwest with Eleanor Tallie in Austin, or working on his latest studio album, he hustles. 

His latest studio effort is “Deep Blue” and it blends the rhythm and blues feel of Stax with the modern pop arrangements reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience.”  This album is exactly what makes Memphis proud.  If you haven’t had a chance to see him perform, you need to do so. 

The first track on “Deep Blue” is appropriately titled Oceans, a great blend of soulful horns and modern guitar.  You need to check out the piano tie-in with Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  As a bass player, I love the syncopated bass lines in the chorus; so I’m a little bit partial to this track.

Another favorite on this album is Falling in Life. I especially like the trade off between electric organ and piano in this track.  The organ on this track, working with the horns, provide a soulful sound while the piano adds an upbeat feel in the verses.  This might not be what he was aiming for, but it reminds me of Steve Winwood or Bruce Hornsby.

This collection of songs is definitely recommended for fans of Memphis soul or modern rhythm and blues.  It’s also recommended if you’re cruising down I-240 with the windows rolled down.

- Justin Jaggers


Photo by Amber Wilson

Lafayette's Music Room in Memphis, TN was completely filled on Sunday May 10th with fans, friends, and family of Nick Black. The band's first set consisted almost entirely of songs from their new album Deep Blue, while the second set was a chance for them to let their hair down and show off their stuff to the packed house. One for the books, folks!