TAS Rated 4/5 Music, 4.5/5 Sonics in the January 2022 Issue of The Absolute Sound!
With a voice that has stopped critics in their tracks, Lady Blackbird (aka Marley Munroe) is a revelatory talent with music that transcends the jazz scene through which the LA-based artist is rooted. Reflecting influences as varied as Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner and Chaka Khan, with critics drawing comparisons to Adele, Amy and Celeste, Lady Blackbird's distinct and beguiling talent is not one to be missed.
Honoring the greats has come as a musical process to Lady Blackbird, having recorded her highly anticipated 2021 debut album Black Acid Soul in legendary Studio B (Prince's room) in Sunset Sound, produced by Grammy-nominated Chris Seefried.
Minimal yet rich, classic yet timely, the album connects backwards to Miles Davis (his pianist, Deron Johnson, plays Steinway Baby Grand, Mellotron and Casio Synth throughout) and forwards to Pete Tong (he made the Bruise mix of "Collage" his Number Two Essential Selection tune of 2020) and, yes, Victoria Beckham - Matthew Herbert's remix of second single "Beware The Stranger" soundtracked the designer's Spring/Summer 2020 Fashion show.
Its 11 tracks have a sound, feeling and attitude that speak of Lady Blackbird's deep experiences in music.
Are you ready to fly with Lady Blackbird?
In tandem with Grammy-nominated producer Chris Seefried, Lady Blackbird has created a unique sound on Black Acid Soul. The arrangements are stripped down, with minimal accompaniment and sometimes glacial tempos, and at times this bare-bones approach is mesmerizing. Recorded at Sunset Sound in L.A. and mastered by Bernie Grundman, the record draws you in with its you-are-there sonics combined with a realistic sense of depth and space. Blackbird's voice is close-mic'd while the instruments in the background (Jon Flougher's arco bass on 'Blackbird,' for example, or Deron Johnson's acoustic piano) dramatically underscore the gravitas in her voice. Three of the 11 tracks share Blackbird's co-write, and the covers come from an interesting mix of sources. Kicking things off with Nina Simone's 'Blackbird' makes perfect sense, as both artists share the ability to cut straight to the bone. Somehow Tim Hardin's 'It'll Never Happen Again' and the James Gang's 'Collage' translate nicely into brooding ballads as readily as Reuben Bell's 'It's Not That Easy.' And when, on 'Fix It,' Blackbird adds lyrics to Bill Evans' 'Piece Peace,' you hear a through line between two artists who, while using light brushstrokes and exercising restraint, can really level you.
This is heady, haunting, sexy, soulful, heartbreaking stuff. With a voice that suggests a cross between Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone, Lady Blackbird tears your heart apart and puts it back together again on this 11-song set ... an album of smart wordplay, amazing song choices and elegantly understated musicality. Floating above it all is the voice and artistry of this new and incredibly exciting artist. We'll be talking about this debut for many years to come.
A trickle of singles and hyper-stylised videos last year won praise, with Gilles Peterson calling her 'the Grace Jones of jazz'. Now the long-delayed debut album is here and the hype is largely justified: Black Acid Soul is a potent record that, without sounding self-consciously retro, harks back to an era before AutoTune and Pro Tools.
The real jaw-dropper is tucked away in the middle of the recording - and the opening of side 2 on the vinyl version of Black Acid Soul - a dramatic reworking of Joe Walsh's 1969 psych-rock opus 'Collage.' If you know the original which appeared on the first LP by Walsh's original band The James Gang - called Yer Album - you'll be a bit gobsmacked by this wistful moody reinvention.
It is not just that Munroe has a powerful vocal, or that she can convey great, centuries-old pain and struggle, but that she can eke out nuance from every turn of phrase; it is often possible to read her delivery of a single word in multiple ways, she layers such meaning into her performance. Munroe realises that there is more to be said by someone who can tear the house down with ease, when they choose not to.
Much like [Nina] Simone, Munroe is blessed with a throaty, highly resonant voice that's well-suited to carrying a jazz standard, but which also fits nicely on dusky R&B ballads. Working with guitarist Seefried and an intimate ensemble of collaborators, Munroe finds a spellbinding balance between acoustic jazz and live small group soul ... there's an immediacy and warmth to the album that feels all her own.
Black Acid Soul is musically understated, stark and rooted in jazz: bass, piano or guitar, occasional drums and Munroe's extraordinary voice, devoid of affectation, filled with ease and growling power. It's all you need: whether she's essaying an impossibly beautiful version of Tim Hardin's It'll Never Happen Again, performing producer Chris Seefried's ballad Nobody's Sweetheart or turning the Voices of East Harlem's exuberant funk track Wanted Dead or Alive on its head - reworking it as a sparse, eerie ballad called Beware the Stranger - the results are utterly haunting.
- Vinyl LP
- Recorded at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, CA
- Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering
- Made in Germany
|Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews||trumpet|
|Chris Seefried||electric guitar, acoustic guitar|
|Deron Johnson||Steinway baby grand, mellotron, Casio synth|
|Jon Flaugher||double bass|
|Jimmy Paxson||drums, percussion|
- It's Not That Easy
- Fix It
- Ruler Of My Heart
- Nobody's Sweetheart
- Five Feet Tall
- Lost And Looking
- It'll Never Happen Again
- Beware The Stranger
- Black Acid Soul