LIVE: The Black Lillies @ the Ale House, 7/9/13
Review by Fred Rudofsky
According to my source, the Black Lillies were the talk of Austin’s South by Southwest Festival back in March, and their well-attended show at the Ale House lived up to the hype. Based out of Knoxville, Tennessee and currently in the middle of a three-month tour, the young five-piece combo played two strong sets of country music and roots rock that drew largely upon two albums, Whiskey Angel and their recent Runaway Freeway Blues, incorporating diverse inspirational sources along the way.
Led by guitarist-keyboardist Cruz Contreras, the Black Lillies got a warm welcome as soon as they entered the intimate room, and they played like they felt at home. The opening song, “Gold and Roses,” established the motif of fine harmonies by Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady, and introduced the audience to the deft pedal steel work of Tom Pryor. “Catherine” paid tribute to Contreras’s grandmother, and the admiration expressed in the lyrics was punctuated by the snare fills and full bass notes of Bowman Townshend and Bobby Richards respectively. “Same Mistakes” brought to mind the vocal style of Vince Gill, while the bluesy “Good Morning Mama” let Contreras and Brady duet like Johnny and June over a series of crisp Telecaster riffs and solos by Pryor.
The hard-drinking rocker “One Shot, Two Hearts Down” had an Irish rhythm and Appalachian three-part harmonies potent enough to inspire the row of ladies in the back of the room to shake what their mama gave them. Brady dipped into the Hazel Dickens songbook for a superb a cappella rendition of “The Hills of Home.” Closing out the first set with a robust, frenzied “Smokestack Lady,” the band guaranteed that the crowd was not going anywhere for the rest of the evening… except maybe briefly to the bar in the next room.
The opening to the second set was intensely sobering lyrically. “Whiskey Angel” sounded as lonesome as its title, and “Goodbye Charlie” offered flashbacks to the horrors of the Vietnam War. Midway through a funky “There’s Only One,” Contreras shifted from acoustic guitar to Wurlitzer, and the song took off like a jam by the Faces in their rockin’ prime, as did “Lonely.” Melding the keyboard riff of Beck’s “Where It’s At” to the traditional blues of “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” was a brilliant move, and Brady just wailed from deep within her soul. “What did you think of that?” mused Contreras in the midst of loud applause at the end. The fun never let up during the next several songs, either.
Breaking out the mandolin for the traditional “Shady Grove”, the Black Lillies had intended to close out their second set on a solemn note, but the roaring affirmation in the room meant they had to return – wisely, they chose the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” which featured a deep percussive groove, a sense of mischief that suited the lyrics just fine, and the crowd’s desire to sing along on the chorus till the final notes rang out.
THE BLACK LILLIES SET LIST
Gold and Roses
Good Morning, Mama
One Heart Down
Sweet Sweet Woman
The Hills of Home
Some Reason to Believe
There’s Only One
Nobody’s Fault but Mine
Three in the Morning ???