Nick Black - Summer + Spring (2017)

Written by Larry Robertson, posted by blog admin

Nick Black’s 2012 debut The Soul Diaries announced the arrival of a near prodigy talent on the R&B/soul music scene and his development since then has been nothing short of startling. Black is a guitarist and vocalist of eye-popping skill who weaves funk and blues influences, as well, into his work and it’s resulted in three albums, thus far, packed with superior musical material and considerable punch. He’s working with some of the best talents at play in modern music today both as a songwriter and in the recording booth where Black is joined by famed Memphis sound auteur James Bennett. Grammy winning engineer Brad Blackwood handles the mastering chores for his new album Summer + Spring and the combined work of this creative brain trust keeps the album percolating from the first. Its more than a worthy follow-up to Black’s 2015 release Deep Blue and Black’s been on the road ever since, honing his live act in a manner that his new music derives countless benefits from.

The opening number and a key album single, “Joy to the Girl” illustrates the essentially good nature pervading this release. Black’s music, even when it tackles heavier issues, places a high priority on entertaining the listener. The horn section on the song is an important part of Summer + Spring’s overall package and provides a nice blast of color laid over a free-flowing, intensely rhythmic attack from the bass and drums. Black’s breezy vocal style never fails to deliver plenty of musical substance. The cool strikes of guitar interspersed throughout the entirety of the title track give it a little added urgency, but “Summer & Spring” is part and parcel with the rest of the album in the relaxed way it carries itself. Black turns in another well directed performance perfectly in tune with the needs of the song. After a few initial vamps from the band, “Nick at Night” begins chugging along at a respectable clip and features an equally romping Black vocal. It’s impossible for me to not like how the production puts Black’s voice and torrid guitar work high in the mix while never giving the surrounding players short shrift. Summer + Spring covers all the bases with extraordinary skill.

The humor of “Nick at Night” gives way to the hefty lyrical concerns of “Changes”, but Black’s songwriting and vocal alike tackle the subject with such grace that it lightens the listener’s dramatic load and lets them simply enjoy the tune far more then they might have otherwise. He indulges his affection for the blues with “Runaway Heart” and it’s an obvious pick for his live set thanks to the dramatic orchestration of its construction and wrenching climaxes lent more weight by Black’s guitar work. “Lay It on the Line” mixes smooth urban R&B with some funkier passages with seamless transitions between the styles. Black proves an equally sympathetic vocalist and makes those shifts without ever missing a beat. There’s a light jazzy air, spiked with a hint of the Caribbean, on the song “Diamonds” and Black underscores the vibe with a nicely rhythmic, breathy vocal that never strains for effect. It’s one of the album’s more satisfying stylistic turns.”When You Say Love” bears some bluesy similarities to the earlier “Runaway Heart”, but it’s much more of an R&B/soul number than the earlier tune. Summer + Spring further strengthens Nick Black’s claim to being one of the most compelling new performers in the R&B/soul/blues genre to emerge in the last two decades and he continues to make more of an impact with each new release.