The Black Swans
**** (4/5 stars)- Mojo
"...a gorgeous sounding record" - Pitchfork
"an artful intentionality to it all... a terrific album."-- Paste
Ohio has long been a breeding ground for strange beauty. Visionary natives include Scott Walker, Jim Jarmusch, Phil Ochs, Devo, Albert Ayler, Stiv Bators, Scatman Crothers.
Born from that state's capital city, The Black Swans drink the same water as their predecessors. Led by singer/songwriter and guitarist, Jerry DeCicca, the music skirts the cliches of roots music, remaining sincere, smart, soulful, weird and deep.
Mojo describes their newest album, Don't Blame the Stars (Misra), as "Proustian autobiographical tales" and Pitchfork calls it a "gorgeous sounding record". A conceptual piece about the healing powers of music, The Black Swans deliver humor and substance in a single blow with tunes like "I Forgot to Change the Windshield Wipers in My Mind," "Little Things," and the title track. Elsewhere, the tone is reflective as in"Blue Bayou," a song that recounts the narrator finding solace in the Orbison classic of the same name. In reviews of recent reissues by legendary songwriter Mickey Newbury, DeCicca received several nods on a shortlist of torch bearers that include Nick Cave, Will Oldham, and Simon Joyner. Neither anachronistic nor overtly modern, DeCicca is a songwriter out of time.
Throughout each release, 5 in 7 years, The Black Swans move from skeletal chamber-folk to mid-temp vintage country pop; their subjects a blend between the psychological and the personal. Their 2004 debut, Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You?, was called "one of the best, most overlooked new folk records of the psych-folk genre" several years after its release by astute webzine Dusted. In 2006, the band made a left turn with the self-released Sex Brain Ep which found their darkness lighten while waltzing sexually explicit folk rock that fans have cued for weddings and break-ups ever since. 2007 saw the release of Change! followed by the limited edition vinyl lp Words Are Stupid in 2010, both receiving wide critical acclaim from the likes of Spin, Paste, Blurt, and USA Today among others.
The Black Swans next album, Occasion For Song, will be released again by Misra Records (Phosphorescent, Destroyer) in Spring 2012. The songs were written in the wake of their violinist and friend, Noel Sayre, drowning in a public swimming pool in the summer of 2008. Many of the songs deal with this loss, the grief and anger that followed, and making sense of life in his absence. Though beyond personal throughout, the album's highlight may be the song "Portsmouth, Ohio," a third person account of the tragic day with both distance and detail that is as eerie and acute as photojournalism. In the end, though, the album is a eulogy, thoughtful and poetic.
Besides their own albums, DeCicca has produced classic and obscure 1970s American songwriters Larry Jon Wilson (Monument Records, the film Heartworn Highways), Bob Martin (RCA, Midwest Farm Disaster) and currently Ed Askew (ESP-Disk, Drag City) who's new album will feature all of The Black Swans along with Sharon Van Etten and Marc Ribot.
The Black Swans have plodded their own field, creating a body of work that's resulted in critical acclaim and an underground fan base that continues to grow.