Home Jason's Jukebox Album reviews: Black Pumas, Robert Finley, Shooter Jennings

Album reviews: Black Pumas, Robert Finley, Shooter Jennings

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Black Pumas – Chronicles Of A Diamond (ATO Records)
When Austin, TX-based guitarist Adrian Quesada and vocalist Eric Burton first teamed up in 2018 to form Black Pumas, it was a now-rare example of a group becoming an overnight sensation. Their self-titled debut album was not only immediately embraced by mainstream media everywhere, it received several Grammy nominations, and even led to an invite to perform at Joe Biden’s inauguration. The hook was the band’s modern interpretation of vintage soul and R&B, tied together with Burton’s off-the-chart charisma, a combination that suddenly gave hope to anyone weary of assembly line pop. With their profile still growing two years after Black Pumas’ 2019 release, it’s not surprising that Adrian and Eric have taken their time to craft a follow-up, although the flipside of that coin is that Chronicles Of A Diamond has been set up for a classic sophomore slump. While that’s not entirely the case, the album is likely to separate the true fans from bandwagon jumpers. Opening with “More Than A Love Song,” with a groove and string arrangement reminiscent of What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye, the band fully locks in on “Ice Cream (Pay Phone),” moving into Prince territory with Burton showing off his falsetto. However, things start to go slightly askew from there, with “Mrs. Postman” and the title track offering a jumbled version of the debut album’s drama. The acoustic-based “Angel” provides some clarity—as well as Burton’s best vocal performance on the album—while “Gemini Sun” offers a tough, psychedelic-tinged counterpoint. In all, though, Chronicles Of A Diamond bears all the hallmarks of a “transitional” record. Black Pumas surely have everything needed for career longevity, but first they’ll have to let go of the past and find some new ways of harnessing their unlimited potential.

Robert Finley – Black Bayou (Easy Eye Sound)
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach has been doing admirable work with his Nashville-based studio and record label to shine the spotlight on some underappreciated artists, with arguably his most successful reclamation project being Louisiana-born blues singer Robert Finley. Black Bayou is their third collaboration since 2017, and another big step toward Finley transcending the blues genre. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Dan’s trademark production style, which helped launch The Black Keys to international superstar status, but it’s perfectly suited to Finley’s songwriting approach, which on Black Bayou doesn’t take itself as seriously as on previous records. That playfulness is palpable on “Sneakin’ Around,” (which echoes the classic Otis Redding/Carla Thomas duet “Tramp”) and the down-and-dirty “Miss Kitty.” Overall, each track on Black Bayou is built upon an unshakeable groove, with Jeffery Clemens and Dan’s Black Keys partner Patrick Carney sharing drum duties. Matched with Dan and Kenny Brown’s interwoven guitars, the effect is truly swampy, making closing track, “Alligator Bait,” a humorous childhood reminiscence, an entirely appropriate ending. Highly recommended.

Shooter Jennings & The Werewolves Of Los Angeles Do Zevon (BCR)
Unlike some offspring of famous musicians, Shooter Jennings has largely avoided accusations of riding his father, Waylon’s, coattails by carving out an unusual musical identity that has done much to bridge the gap between country and hard rock through both his own albums and production work for everyone from Brandi Carlile to Marilyn Manson. What he does share with his father is a keen ear for a great song, and this new tribute to the late, great Warren Zevon adds to the growing chorus of voices aiming to give a true cult hero his proper due. Shooter recorded the album live this past summer and has stated that he purposely made it in response to the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame continuing to inexplicably snub Zevon, and timing its release on the same day as this year’s induction ceremony was no coincidence. Sticking mainly to piano, Shooter and his band run through 13 of Zevon’s classics, mostly his best-known 1970s output such as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “The French Inhaler,” and of course “Werewolves Of London.” It’s hard to imagine longtime Zevon fans needing new versions of these songs, but the presence of a rowdy audience adds some extra juice. It’s when Shooter tackles more obscure material such as “Carmelita” and “Keep Me In Your Heart” that the album finds its footing, and it’s hard to go wrong closing the set with “Desperados Under The Eaves,” one of the most majestic melodies to ever flow from Zevon’s pen. It’s likely that Zevon will eventually become enshrined in Cleveland, but until then, it’s worthwhile to fight alongside Shooter and many others to get him there.

SONG OF THE WEEK

Trans-Canada Highwaymen / “Raised On Robbery” (Pheromone Recordings)

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