Black Swans

Black Swans
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The Black Swans name-check Donnie Fritts, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, Arthur Alexander, Percy Mayfield, Barbara Lynn, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Prince, Jesse Fuller, Elizabeth Cotton, Gregory Isaacs, Iris Dement, Merle Haggard, and Dion. Pretty encouraging when you consider that most spoony beardos their age don’t know Tom T. Hall from Tom G. Warrior. Don’t Blame the Stars stands apart – it adds to the great tradition of American music it celebrates.

The name-checking, then, while fun, is not what makes this record great. If it were a dim reproduction of the tradition, we could appreciate tjeor taste without actually enjoying his music. As it is, the record takes on old forms and finds things beautiful, unique and new hidden in their DNA.

Don’t Blame the Stars was recorded live in a garage in Columbus, Ohio. It is a batch of songs about being agnostic and finding meaning in friendships, identity, and music instead of a higher power. Often with spoken word introductions, the album models itself after Willie Nelson’s Yesterday’s Wine, but whereas Willie is speaking to God, Black Swans’ frontman Jerry DeCicca is talking to the listener, or himself, or no one.

The album, however, isn’t just DeCicca’s show. Also highlighted is Noel Sayre, who provides some of the most lyrical and expressive violin playing on a contemporary rock album this side of Warren Ellis (Dirty 3). The double-tracked strings on “My Brother,” in particular, could be heard as a fitting elegy for Sayre, who died tragically in 2008.

Don’t Blame the Stars
is one of the best records you’ll hear all year. It is full of sad songs about happy things, and happy sounding songs about very, very strange things. They are irreverent, eidetic tales of superstition, addiction, being lost, getting found, and just being alone. In short, lyrical, hilarious meditations on being alive and livin’— for which, as Jerry will tell you, “there is no known cure.”

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