Jeff Black, Tin Lily (Dualtone, 2005)

Jeff Black's fourth CD begins with a sort of retro-folk song, acoustic guitar and harmonica with Black's rough-hewn vocals singing, "take it easy on me, take it easy on me now." You might get the idea that he's aiming for the next "New Bob Dylan" badge, but by the time the second song comes up, with its steady drumbeat, electric guitars and his more forceful voice stating with authority, "love has thrown a light across the shadows of this land living in the hollow of your hand," you realize there's more to this guy than that!

In my review of Black's last album, B-sides and Confessions, Volume One, I quoted George Harrison's comment that "stealing from one source is plagiarism, but stealing from many sources is research," and said that Black had done his research, because each song made you think of someone else. Well, on Tin Lily he sounds like Jeff Black. He might remind you of someone else for a moment, but when you listen, you know you're hearing something special. The piano-based "Nineteen" is a moving reflection of lost love: "I wish you could have seen . . . you would be nineteen." Lost, not by carelessness, but by the passing of the loved one.

Black plays both electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and harmonica. He is joined by a solid band which includes Dave Row (bass), Dave Jacques (upright bass), Craig Wright (drums), and guests like Sam Bush (mandolin and fiddle) and Kate Campbell on backing vocals.

Every song is strong but there are some highlights. There's the driving "Libertine," and the piano-rocker "Free at Last." And then there's "Closer" and "All Days Shine" or "Heaven Now" and "These Days"; but whether an acoustic love song or a solid rocker, each song brings you closer to the conclusion that Jeff Black is the real thing. And when's the last time you heard "Mephistopheles" used in a song? Well, Black starts "Hard Way Out" declaiming "Mephistopheles is dead / but the last thing / the little bastard said / was that any fool / can have my crown / if they can claim the lost / before they're found . . ."

Want to hear a bunch of damn good songs, played and sung really well? Pick yourself up a copy of Jeff Black's Tin Lily. You'll be glad you did.

[David Kidney]