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NewCityNet Black Lightning

A Chicago band stakes its claim on the big time

By Dave Chamberlain

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:  The Blacks hold their official record-release party September 26 at Lounge Ax, in a right-on bill with supporters Splitlip Rayfield and the lovely Kelly Hogan.

We've talked about the band enough using vague allusions and superlative terms in reference to their live show, but now that the record, "Dolly Horrorshow" (Bloodshot), is out, its time to break the Blacks down. First of all, although this is the Blacks' first official release, many of the same songs were released on a cassette of the same name (which has been for sale at every Blacks show I can remember) when the band was still called the Black Family. As excited as I was to finally see the band with music pressed onto a CD, it was tempered by the fact that I'd already listened endlessly to the tape.

Those without the tape, however, are in for a blast. "Punk-inflected cowboy blues" I've heard used as a description, but that's not entirely accurate. The opening track, "Dolly," is almost purely flaunted insurgent country, essentially rock 'n' roll funneled through a country attitude, but rock all the same. Other songs fit the pure country mold, like "Tortured Holiday" and "Moan," complete with a low-key banjos and steels in the background.

The Blacks' bottom line - and this has always been the band's selling pointŠis lead-singer/guitarist Danny Black's vocal elasticity and incredibly magnetic voice. Listen to a thousand records of every genre in the male-dominated music world, and another male voice - often no matter how good - can get tiresome (a reason female-led bands are more likely to get my ear). But Danny Black has the perfect voice for the Blacks' generally low-key approach, which is easy to take for granted in a live show, but much more difficult to deflect in recorded material. Complemented by less-than-overwhelming background vocals, Black has a voice capable of carrying the band far away from Chicago.

And "Dolly Horrorshow" is the record to put both the Blacks and Bloodshot Records on a higher-profile map. The Blacks still have a mountain to climb in front of them, but they've been patient and worked at it this long, and they've already passed the first, and tallest, range.

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