Nick Black - Deep Blue
Few young performers in any genre can say they match both Nick Black’s energy and finesse. The wont of musical youth is usually casting as many notions about lightness of touch as possible in favor of a full on, authentic rush. The energy of the young often throttles listeners upside their heads with its obviousness. Nick Black, instead, is working in a cross-section of traditional styles and pushes his music through an assortment of tempos and tropes with urgency that never comes off as unconsidered. It’s an awesome balance to achieve. Few releases from such young performers ever come off so filler-free. Even after a few listens, Black’s audience is likely to discover that there’s not a single song out of the ten compromising Deep Blue has style to burn and concerted musical value that never comes off as posing. Instead, Nick Black comes off as masterful.
Horns dominate much of the musical thrust on Deep Blue’s opener “Ocean” and Black sings with great earnestness and an openness of spirit. The dance that his voice quickly achieves with the piano lines cascading through the mix is the song’s central melodic pivot, in a way, but the guitar work rising out of the mix for some vivid fills likewise contributes much to the song. “Grownups” starts off not seeming quite as serious in intent, but it’s clear pretty quickly that Black’s ambitions here and those of the songwriting might be a little subtler than they are letting on. This is as fine of a song as you’ll hear about an one on one relationship in some time because it does something just different enough that it sounds fresh. Black seems quite happy to be singing it and gives it a certain zing on the lines that the opener lacked. “Falling in Life” probably tries to cover too many musical bases, but it thankfully doesn’t go on too long in duration and the level of musicianship remains high throughout.
“D.I.Y.” has a world of emotions swirling through its ballad construction and Black proves that he’s just as adept with this type of songwriting under the soul and R&B umbrella as he is with other types in the same genre. “Only One Man” begins at a much more sumptuous pace than it ends and the differences make for a much more dynamic performance. The second half, in particular, shows a surprising amount of fire primarily pushed by lead guitar playing that whips through the mix like a fanning flame. “Let’s Be Glad”, on the other hand, puts Black squarely in the land of gospel music and he pulls it off admirably. Few of the album’s songs utilize backing singers, but this is naturally one of the most successful instances of their use on Deep Blue. Another fine ballad on Deep Blue is “Don’t Leave Louise” – Black never risks melodramatic nonsense here and the form the song takes makes him dodging its likelihood all the more surprising. Instead, both lyrics and singer are a perfect fit here and Black shows the good sense to resist cluttering the direct, beautiful arrangement. Deep Blue is a vast improvement on Black’s already fine debut The Soul Diaries and shows that this performer’s potential is, perhaps, far vaster than anyone initially understood.
9 out of 10 stars