You Need To Know: Jeff Black

One of the best things about country music is how diverse it is and how the community often champions artists and songwriters not quite known among the public.  For the first article in a new series, we introduce country music fans to singer/songwriter Jeff Black, a writer of a pair of 90's hits.

When people think of storytelling in music they often think of folk music or they think of country music.  Rarely does one equate a compelling story to rock music but sometimes an artist is able to deftly manage to mix all three disciplines into a compelling mix of music.  Like Neil Young, Jeff Black is such an artist. 

For most of America, Jeff Black is but a name at the top of a lyric page of a few hit country songs but for those that know of him, he’s as gifted as songwriters Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Kris Kristofferson in that the best songs he writes often tend to be narrative in structure.  “Birmingham Road” is the title of Black’s lone major label record (Released in 1998 on the short lived Arista Austin label) and the title track immediately showcases that narrative sprit.  When Blackhawk recorded “That’s Just About Right,” they cut off one verse to make it work better at country radio.  Despite doing that, the song stood out at country radio because of the unique philosophy on life that isn’t relayed through lists or cliché’s.  In Black’s hands (again on “Birmingham Road”), the song really comes alive and that third verse really gives the song much, much more depth:

we ended our talk on how many friendships had faded
and nowadays what makes a picture seem real
are the simpler versions and not complicated
thanks for the brushes man i'll see you next year
so let's roll on we know what we're here for
souvenirs of all that we've seen
so write a story paint yourself and paint the town
when you look around you know where you've been
if you wonder if your vision is jaded
you just ask someone who will tell you true
one true friend who sees all that you've painted
say hey man, that looks just like you

Like Clark, Van Zandt, Kristofferson and Tom Waits, Black has a unique voice that isn’t like anyone else’s.  Always emotive and used to great effect, people will not be mistaking Black for Vince Gill or Jackson Browne.  “Easy On Me” is the opening track of Jeff Black’s opening set, recalls the wonder that is many of Neil Young’s songs.  It’s folk-rock in the finest, truest sense of the word.  “Hollow Of Your Hand” is another sparkling slice of Americana that finds Black, in true Petty form, singing a song about the open road, but instead, he is using the open road as a metaphor for an empty relationship.

True singer/songwriter fans may enjoy “B-Sides and Confessions, Volume One” for it sounds more spare and barren of full-band mixes.  “Slip” is a whopper of a song while “Same Old River” finds Black painting another eloquent story about the world being the same for us all, no matter where we came from or what kind of person we are:

i wish that i could be a slave y’all
it really wouldn’t matter what kind
i’d sing a song for fallen angels
and try to be free in my mind
then when no one w
as looking
i’d drop my harness and plow
i’d find my old contemporaries
and wipe the shame from their brow

The fact that Jeff Black isn’t more well-known is probably more due to his coming along at a time when popular music was getting more and more commercial and less and less about artists who truly had something unique to say.  Black has recorded three albums since the Arista debut, two for Dualtone (“Tin Lily” and “B-Sides and Confessions, Vol. 1”) and one that was released by Yep Roc Records ("Honey And Salt").  All of three of these albums are available digitally (whereas the Arista one isn’t) or at or Jeff’s personal website (where “Birmingham Road” is for sale still).    Jeff Black is a modern poet who’s equally home on sparse acoustical arrangements or backed by a full band (Wilco, minus Jeff Tweedy, backed him on “Road.”) and is someone worthy of seeking out.




Jeff Black Website