The Black Lillies
“Hard To Please”
Black Lilly Records/Thirty Tigers
The Black Lillies are a killer live band. They specialize in roadhouse country and soulful ballads. Their new release “Hard To Please” successfully conveys the passion and depth of their stage shows in a way which pleases, and hard to ignore.
The Black Lillies are, foremost, Cruz Contreras’ band. He fronts The Black Lillies, writing most of the material, playing guitar and keyboard with abandon and providing stout lead vocals. Contreras is a musical force to be reckoned with.
On “Hard To Please” the band sounds like it could be dropped into The Broken Spoke in South Austin on a boozy Friday night and take on all comers. The title cut certainly fits this mold, with crushing guitar riffs and a nasty backbeat from drummer Bowman Townsend. “That’s The Way It Goes Down”, takes up the energy of “Hard To Please”, smooths it out and lands with power and grace. There’s no lack of energy throughout the whole record. This is smart songwriting, with licks to back it up.
Singer Trisha Gene Brady could be, but is not, overshadowed by Contreras. Brady takes center stage on several of the numbers and her vocals are both strong and true. ‘Mercy”, nominally a duet with Contreras, is Brady’s song start to finish. So, too, is the soulful, throaty rendition of “The First Time”. The Black Lillies follow a similar pattern with the peaceful, rolling “Bound To Roam” and the lively, pedal steel infused “Dancin’”: Contreras sets the vocal table for Brady to clear.
The Black Lillies went through a couple of personnel changes right about the time the recording of “Hard To Please”, but the band doesn’t misstep. Producer Ryan Hewitt, who has Johnny Cash and Avett Brothers production credits, ably assisted the recording in Nashville. Bowman Townsend is a clever and steady percussive force; he and Brady are key members of the band, and never more so than on “Hard To Please” Without them, the band would have considerably less texture and soul.
“Hard To Please” is a collection that improves with listening. The Black Lillies have been in the musical trenches for a few years now, but their chops and maturity are real assets. This is where roadhouse country music should be in 2016.