Review: Amy Black – One Time (Reuben, 2011)
For a New Englander, Amy Black sounds quite down home. Her Southern roots (she was reared in Missouri and Alabama until the age of sixteen) clearly packed their bags and traveled along in the relocation North and East, and have been renewed through visits to her family’s home town. Black sings in a folk-styled country voice that suggests bits of Patty Loveless, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Judy Collins, edged by the blues of Bonnie Raitt and a hint of Jennifer Nettle’s sass. It’s a voice that sat largely idle during a ten-year career outside the music industry, and one that wasn’t stirred back into action until a few years ago. Her 2009 debut with the Red Clay Rascals was stocked with covers, but on this sophomore outing she expands her artistic reach with nine originals that mix electric and acoustic, including guitar, fiddle (courtesy of Stuart Duncan), dobro, mandolin, dulcimer, bass (electric and upright), and drums. Though the album opens with a compelling tale of an imagined killer fleeing the law, the bulk of Black’s songs are about the lives of women. There’s straight-talking relationship advice in “One Time,” the lonely machinations of one who’s been left in “You Lied,” and tough realizations in “Whiskey and Wine” and “I Can’t Play This Game.” Black offers romantic optimism too, as she flirts with loving arms that remain just out of reach, potential yet to be realized. Among the three covers, Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man),” despite a nice dobro solo, sounds least comfortable among Black’s originals, but Claude Ely’s gospel “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down),” provides blue notes for Black and Duncan to really dig into. This is a nice step forward for a singer-songwriter with an ingratiating voice and a pen that’s just warming up.