The Blacks – (Grand)daddy played bass
The rock club buzz falters as jaws drop and eyes fix on the set’s foreplay. A golden-haired Amazon coaxes feedback moans from her upright bass, undulating in her deeply slit evening gown and stiletto heels. The guitarist vamps the microphone stand, her eyes and bare shoulders flirting with the crowd. This band believes in showmanship. They dress for it, and they deliver.
The granddaughter of Elvis’ bassist, Bill Black, Gina Black won a college scholarship with her bass playing, but frontman Danny Black (no relation) pegs her persona. “From playing in orchestras since seventh grade, she felt she could never be heard.” Speaking for herself: “Bottom line is, this all comes because I’m an exhibitionist.”
That’s not the bottom line, though. Says drummer James Emmenegger, “I joined this band because this is the most incredible bass player I’ve ever played with. This rhythm section has got serious pull and serious feeling. She effing wails on the bass.”
“It’s the music,” Emmenegger adds. “This music is so fresh and so new….The songwriting is simple, but it’s not something you’ve heard before. It’s totally original, but people can relate to it.”
The Blacks call their music “bastardized punk-inflected cowboy blues.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but it slights the antique pop echoes that distinguish their melodies and instrumentation. It also overlooks Gina’s bowing, if not her cowpunk slap-bass timekeeping. Perpetually a problem with rock club sound systems, the range and subtlety of her playing is spotlighted on Dolly Horrorshow, the band’s Bloodshot Records debut.
To capture their many dimensions, the Blacks entrusted their first recording to Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, the former Blackhearts, Del Lords and Roscoe’s Gang guitarist whose considerable producer credits also include Blue Mountain and the Bottle Rockets. Having followed the Blacks’ three-piece incarnation with interest, Ambel was eager to work with the group once guitarist Nora O’Connor signed on. Her playing frees Danny for trumpet fills and contributes a solid second harmony in vocal arrangements that evoke ’70s rock, ’50s soul and the cabarets of the Weimar Republic, with an occasional hint of the Bride of Dracula.
Gina created the cover art for Dolly Horrorshow — a Harley Davidson take on a Stephen King vision of soft porn, as busy and evocative as the music within. Songs include a sturdy Bill Monroe hymn, the traditional murder ballad “Dear Little Girl”, and two of Gina’s originals: “Take Me Now”, which is either a prayer or a song about oral sex, and “Crazy”, a schizophrenic vision of demons yodeling like Alpine goat herds. The rest of the songs, all Danny’s, are more enigmatic, plausibly biographical. Their ambiguity obscures, just barely, emotional details of an inevitably twisted love affair.