[26 January 2009]
Randy Newman is reported to have once said, “I am what rock and roll could have become had it chosen a different path”. If that is true, and it seems reasonable to assume that it is, then Jon Black is what alt-country/Americana could have become had Jeff Tweedy never met Jim O’Rourke. Like Newman, Black has soldiered on in a genre of music that has been abandoned by some of its brightest stars. His perseverance is our reward as he releases Goodbye Golden Age.
His third record, and second on the hardworking Rebuilt label, Goodbye Golden Age is an overwhelming testimony to the fact that there is still territory where Whiskeytown and others left off. Opening with a quiet plucking guitar in “April Showers” and then taking a sharp left into “Mouth of the Moon”, where the guitars and harmonies ring like they came straight from the heart of a Blue Mountain record, Black crafts a beginning-to-end listen that will leave you wanting more. His vocal performance lies somewhere between Ryan Adams and the Autumn Defense’s John Stiratt, but the tone is all his own.
“Run with All You Got” is the tried and true story of a man on the road trying to make a life out of the choices he has made. It is filled with urgency as it contemplates those who run out of time before they reach the finish. “Drove to Knoxville” utilizes a beautiful lap pedal steel guitar introduction to frame the song. The title track is pleasant enough but not as memorable as other tracks where Black elicits the help of fellow southern guitar slinger Cary Hudson. “I Am the Tempted” would not be out of place on a Robbie Fulks record, and once again the lap pedal steel guitar is used to great effect.
“Deliverance” is totally devoid of pig noises (sort of a letdown) but once again fuses the very edge of Americana with a driving rock sound and an intriguing narrative. ”Banks of Jordan” does what Americana and Country have been doing better than any genre for years: fusing the life of a sinner with the brimstone found in gospel. The subject, another of Black’s characters who reaches his end too early, is completely guilty and yet totally redeemable, a trick not easily performed by any songwriter.
Black abandoned corporate America to pursue music full-time six years ago. Since that time he has toured the country, released two records, and established a core of very loyal fans. Lyrically, he may not be breaking new ground but the songs read as authentic. Perhaps his years “working for the man” led the Georgia-born Black to watch those around him more carefully than most of us do. Whatever it is, he is growing into a formidable songwriter with a considerable amount to say and just as much worth listening to. Goodbye Golden Age , despite its resigned title, is proof that the golden age of Americana is alive and well.