The Black Lillies: Stranger To Me

The Black Lillies
Stranger to Me
(Thirty Tigers)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Do you yearn for the days when Poco was in its prime? Still distraught about the dissolution of Buffalo Springfield? Perhaps you can’t forgive the Eagles for going commercial after On The Border? Well then, meet the new, improved Black Lillies.

Frontman and founder Cruz Contreras has significantly revamped his band, stripping his once sprawling six-piece down to a tight quartet, losing female vocalist Trish Gene Brady (surely to many fans’ disappointment) and making relatively new member Sam Quinn (ex-Everybodyfields) his shotgun riding co-frontman/songwriter. Album number five isn’t a huge stylistic departure—after all this remains a warmly melodic roots outfit—but there is a clear move to stronger hooks and less of the country rocking The Black Lillies were known for.

The change is immediately apparent. Opening mid-tempo rocker “Ten Years” replaces pedal steel with Dustin Schaefer’s slide guitar, Contreras’ powerful lead voice, three-piece harmony singing reminiscent of, if not quite Crosby, Stills & Nash, then at least Souther-Hillman-Furay (Quinn’s voice is eerily similar to Richie Furay’s) and a chorus you’ll be singing as soon as it’s over. It’s tough not to make comparisons to the Eagles, especially when the harmonies and rocking drums of “Ice Museum” are reminiscent of what made that California band so memorable. Lyrics seldom stray from lost love, the loneliness of road life and the combination of the two, best expressed in the lovely, bittersweet ballad “Joy and Misery.”

Press materials emphasize that the band wanted every track to be a contender with no weak moments. While that’s a valid goal, a little trimming of the 13-song, 52-minute album would make it stronger overall, especially due to the repetition of similar ideas about the weariness of a travelling musician, not exactly a fresh concept to begin with.

Still, this is an impressive reboot of sorts for The Black Lillies. Rockers like Quinn’s “Weighting” and the jointly written “No Other Way” snap and crackle (kudos to drummer Bowman Townsend who keeps the beat crisp) while softer fare such as the acoustic “Earthquake” balances out the vibe with soaring vocals and introspective lyrics. It may not replace your favorite ’70s country-rock—sorry, Americana—albums, but it’s good enough to make you forget about them for about 50 minutes.