Amy Black - "The Blackest Cloud" (video) (premiere)

by Sarah Zupko

10 April 2017

In which Nashville's Amy Black travels to Memphis to immerse herself in the steamy, horn-driven soul and gritty blues of the city's musical scene.
Photo: Stacie Huckaba 

Amy Black rediscovered her Southern soul on 2015’s The Muscle Shoals Sessions, whereas her earlier work placed Black firmly within the Americana scene. Some of us happen to believe that soul music is Americana and African American-originated musical forms have largely and wrongly been left out of the broad Americana genre. So, in my book, her music still counts as Americana as it melds roots music categorizations. For her new album, Black went for the Memphis sound, home to the all-mighty Stax Records and their signature horn sound, as well as Hi Records. Titled Memphis, the record will release 2 June 2017 on her own Reuben Records.
“The Hi rhythm section and the folks who recorded with Willie Mitchell are now favorites of mine, but a year ago, I didn’t know about them,” Black admits. “Now I’m also a huge fan of O.V. Wright and Otis Clay. And Ann Peebles—oh man, I just love the feel of her music; I love what it does to me. That’s the coolest part of this project—the exposure to these artists that have become a part of me.”

Black has thoroughly absorbed the Memphis sound, incorporating the chugging rhythm, spritely horns, and soulful beats. Meanwhile, her voice and method of interpretation echo the greats like Dusty Springfield, Mavis Staples, and Ann Peebles. And let’s not forget the huge importance of Memphis in the blues world as Black’s music bridges the worlds of blues and soul. “The Blackest Cloud” is the first single from Memphis and Amy Black tells us all about the creation of the song:

“I wrote ‘The Blackest Cloud’ during my first scouting trip to Memphis last September. I came to town for a week to take it all in—visit the historic sites, read up on the history, meet with possible producers, tour studios and do some writing. I was camped out in a little bohemian-style studio apartment in the Cooper/Young district. I would wake up in the morning, brew my coffee and write, still in my PJs. Blackest Cloud was the first song that came to me. It started with the horn and guitar riff and a beat (that I worked out by slapping my hands on my legs). I didn’t write with a guitar or keys, just my voice. I moved from the opening riff to the verses and the chorus—it flowed pretty quickly from there.

“The goal with the melody and groove was for it to be a fun song to sing along with and dance to, but the lyrics go deeper. The meaning is up to the listener. The blackest cloud could be anything from something in their past that won’t let them move on to a current difficult experience that’s bringing them down. I tend to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, which can sometimes make it hard for me to enjoy life the way I’d like to. I’ve had some experience with depression, and I know friends and family who deal with it daily. When you are in the middle of it, it’s like a dark cloud is following you around—one you can’t shake. Finding hope can feel impossible in these times, but it is the key. I didn’t give forethought about the outcome of writing and recording a song about this topic—having to talk about why I wrote it—but I’m glad I put it out there. Maybe The Blackest Cloud can encourage those who have this experience to know they aren’t alone, and there is always hope—and, on a smaller level, get them a reason to dance around the house. Kitchen dancing always lifts my spirits!

“The song was recorded at Electraphonic on the first day of our sessions—this was the day we had some of the next generation Memphis players in the studio—Joe Restivo from the Bo-Keys on guitar, Al Gamble from St. Paul and the Broken Bones on keys, George Sluppick on drums who just returned to Memphis after living in LA for several years and touring with Chris Robinson, joined by Hi Rhythm great Leroy “Flick” Hodges on bass. Later we added Memphis horns arranged by Marc Franklin, who also plays the killer trumpet parts, and long-time Memphis soul sirens, Reba Russell and Danielle Hill sang background vocals—I joined in too to give it three parts. We recorded the album on 8-tracks and had only one available for backgrounds on ‘The Blackest Cloud’, so we all jumped on the mic and did it together.

“The video was shot all over Memphis by Stacie Huckeba who is Nashville-based but has a deep connection with Memphis. We did an eight-hour shoot with 28 full takes of the song—and energy remained high to the end! We started at the top of the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, where I danced myself dizzy on the observation deck, entertaining the diners (think Flashdance), moved on to a walking bridge that had us out over the middle of the Mississippi River, then to Beale Street and lastly to the bar that claims to be the oldest in Memphis, the Lamplighter, where our gracious bartender Ann, who has been there for 40 years, let us film. You can catch her cameo (my favorite moment) at the end of the video. On days like these, that black cloud is nowhere in sight; it’s all sunshine—I’m living my passion and falling more in love with a city that increasingly holds a special place in my heart.”

Wed., June 5 CLEVELAND, OH The Beachland Ballroom
Tues., June 6 WORTHINGTON, OH Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza
Sun., June 11 NASHVILLE, TN City Winery Nashville
Mon., June 12 ST. LOUIS, MO Off Broadway
Sun., June 18 CHICAGO, IL City Winery Chicago
Wed., June 21 NEWPORT, KY Southgate House
Fri., June 23 OKLAHOMA CITY, OK The Blue Door
Sat., June 24 DALLAS, TX AllGood Cafe
Tues., June 27 AUSTIN, TX The Townsend
Thurs., June 29 HOUSTON, TX The Mucky Duck
Sun., July 2 ATLANTA, GA City Winery Atlanta
Thurs., July 6 MEMPHIS, TN Lafayette’s Music Room
Thurs., July 13 AUBURN, AL Sundilla Concert Series (Unitarian Fellowship building)
Fri., July 14 ASHEVILLE, NC The Grey Eagle
Wed., July 19 ASBURY PARK, NJ The Saint
Thurs., July 20 PHILADELPHIA, PA World Cafe Live
Fri., July 21 CAMBRIDGE, MA Regattabar
Sat., July 22 NORTHAMPTON, MA The Iron Horse
Thurs., July 27 PORTLAND, ME One Longfellow Square
Fri., July 28 PLYMOUTH, MA The Spire Center for the Arts
Sat., July 29 PORTSMOUTH, NH The Loft at the Portsmouth Music Hall
Sun., July 30 NEW YORK CITY, NY City Winery NYC

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