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Brightblack - ala.cali.tucky

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Artist: Brightblack

Album: ala.cali.tucky

Label: Galaxia

Review date: May. 24, 2004

Brightblack’s debut full-length, ala.cali.tucky, hits with all the wallop of a good whiskey buzz – a warm, peaceful sense of euphoria, topped with a strong desire to sleep the night away. But, like all nights spent nursing the bottle, a dark, uneasy, almost violent undercurrent flows just below the surface . It makes sense that Brightblack refer to themselves as a “whiskeygospel trio,” and as does their impending tour with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, another musician who relishes in both the sinful and the holy of the Southern Gothic cannon.

The American South is all over ala.cali.tucky. Guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter Nathan D. Shineywater hails from Alabama, and the album was recorded in Kentucky by Paul Oldham. Shineywater’s lyrical landscapes are soaked in the romanticism of an idealized rural South, full of “The American Wilderness & Oceans, The Sky & The Morning Light,” which receive thanks in the album’s liner notes. There is a sense of whimsicality in Shineywater’s words – as in “Better Days”: “Here come better days / sugar time lemonade / all the things flower gave” – similar to the anachronistic and rural world of friend and occasional touring partner Joanna Newsom. Crickets chirp between songs, and for a good three minutes as the album’s coda.

Aside from its hot and hazy wellspring, Brightblack’s music calls less to mind the likes of Gram Parsons than it does a mixture of the shoegazer/slo-core sounds of Low or Mazzy Star. The slow, drawn-out vocals and beautiful, transcendent harmonies of Shineywater and Rachael Hughes – whose voice calls to mind a more reserved P. J. Harvey – add an almost 4AD-flavored British flare to the deceptively sparse instrumentation.

Of course, this is the beauty of Brightblack’s music – they use all of the aforementioned Southern-inflected conventions to tap a familiar, but refreshing sound. Like the best of Low, ala.cali.tucky can be both uplifting – even spiritual – or dark and depressing, depending on the setting. The music hovers here, sluggish and precise, ready to break out at any second into full-blown catharsis, but content in its reserved grace.

By Jon Pitt

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