The Black Lillies
Runaway Freeway Blues
(Attack Monkey Productions/ North Knox Records)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Those familiar with Robinella and the CC String Band will recognize Cruz Contreras as not only the owner of those initials, but the guitarist/songwriter who was integral to the group’s jazzy bluegrass sound. The Knoxville, Tennessee-based musician’s post Robinella outfit is now on its third release since 2009. The album’s title implies how much road work has gone down in those years. It has paid off with Americana songs that not surprisingly involve travel—both physical and philosophical– as their subject matter. Contreras has a lovely, laid back, somewhat weary voice that dovetails beautifully with singer Trisha Gene Brady harmony vocals. The set alternates between detailed story songs such as the melancholy tale of a Vietnam soldier trying to prove himself in the riveting “Goodbye Charlie.” Other highlights are the frisky horn assisted R&B of “Baby Doe” and the tougher blues-rock inspired “Ruby” which, with its multiple tempo changes, is the album’s musical centerpiece. The exhaustion of the road is expressed in the lyrics but not the unusually jaunty country rhythms of “All This Living,” kick started by Tom Pryor’s zippy pedal steel lines. A release this strong and diverse will surely increase the miles on the act’s van and help secure them a place as one of roots music’s most talented outfits.