When people learn how serious I take the music I listen to, the conversation always veers towards the question – well, what type of music do you listen to? After a few volleys where I try not to be pinned down, I’ll say something along the lines of, “I probably listen to more alt-country than anything else.” The follow-up question always seems to involve questions or comments involving Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Carrie Underwood. At which I make a snide comment like – “I prefer my music to be written by the artist performing it and not made for mass consumption” – at which point the conversation awkwardly ends.
And that brings me to the Black Lillies, a true country band right out of Knoxville, TN and one that Nashville is actually standing up to take notice of. The Black Lillies were one of the first independent acts to play at the Grand Ole Opry and have since played there 20 plus times in the last 18 months. Fronted by Cruz Contreras with lovely harmonies by Trisha Gene Brady, they are true Americana. Robert Richards and Jamie Cook form a rock solid rhythm section. The latter is from HearYa favorite the everybodyfields as is multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor. As in the everybodyfields, Pryor’s pedal steel takes The Black Lillies to a different level.
Runaway Freeway Blues is the follow up to their 2011′s 100 Miles of Wreckage, and the Lillies continue to put their own spin on twang and show a band that’s here for the long haul. Scott Minor of Sparklehorse handled the recording process for this latest effort. The reflective All This Living opens the album up with Brady delivering pitch-perfect harmonies and Pryor, well just being his typical amazing self. Goodbye Charlie, a song that tells the story about Contreras’ mother’s boyfriend is fantastic. It isn’t judgmental or preachy. Like Isbell’s Dress Blues, it tells a story of a serviceman in a heartfelt manner. The album closes with the rabble rouser Smokestack Lady, which sees Contreras and Brady trading vocals back and forth.
I had the pleasure of catching a set down at SXSW at Stage On 6th and it was phenomenal. In addition to the Grand Ole Opry gigs, they are now getting national publicity from NPR, Vanity Fair and Wall Street Journal. You kind of get the feeling that things are starting to come together for them and that not only is a win for The Black Lillies, but for anybody who enjoys true Americana.