Luther Black and The Cold, Hard Facts
Luther Black and the Cold, Hard Facts
by Roy Peak
All debut albums are interesting in that they are usually the culmination of everything the artist has learned up to that point. They've had plenty of time to work out the details and nuances of the songs, they've lived with them, so to speak, and when they finally are able to release them onto the world, it's a catharsis of sorts. It's like they are saying "Here's my art, all that I am. I give it to you," and they stand back and hope the world is kind, that it understands just how much work and heartache went into this particular piece.
Sure, artists always hope a piece is appreciated, yet it is the first piece of art, the first novel, the first piece of music, that is always the hardest to finish and release, and can be the most heartbreaking if it fails to find an audience. So we have here Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts, the debut album by Rick Wagner. Rick Wagner cut his teeth playing bass with several rock and punk bands after leaving the coal country of Pennsylvania, eventually playing with the dB's, the Silos, Emily Duff, Storytown, the Last Surviving Buffalo Band, and several others. After many years of being the ever-essential sideman, he adopted the persona of Luther Black and wrote the songs for this, his debut album.
Being a musical jack of all trades, Wagner performed the majority of the instrumentation on this album himself, bringing in a few ringers to flesh out the songs to their fullest, such as drummers Van Romaine and Jonathan Kampner, guitarist Lance Doss, Matt Wissler on mandolin, and Rebecca Weiner Tompkins who played violin. You can tell that Wagner has been paying attention to the myriad of songwriters he's worked with over the years. He's no slouch.
"59," the song that kicks off this album is tell tale in that it's about a musician who's not ready to stop even though he's about to hit that six decade milestone. "Proof" turns the atypical "drinking your blues away" song on its head with some strong lyrical writing. "Backroads" is a cool hybrid of Springsteen/Westerberg songwriting, with biting electric guitars and a chorus to revel in. The modern electric blues rock of "The Ghost That's Chasing Me" takes its time with a slow burn intro and layered guitars.
"World Won't Wait" maybe my favorite on this album. Strong lyrics, an interesting melody, along with an understated vocal and some perfectly satisfying violin (coupled with twangy electric guitar) elevate this one to an entirely new level. I will admit to being ready to dismiss the last song here, "I'm So Lonesome I Can Cry," on first listen, but a second and third listen revealed the bluesy nuances hidden inside this droning electrified noise rendering of Hank Williams' classic song. This reminds me of the subtler material by the New York band Suicide, as well as some of Carla Bozulich's noise experiments with guitarist Nels Cline in the band Scarnella. The right call here, for sure.
This debut is rock solid, no doubt, but I'm thinking that Wagner just may have another, even better one in him, and I look forward to hearing it.
Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts DA Records
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he canremember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others.