Record Review - 3 July 21 2005

On his fourth release, Tin Lily, Kansas City singer/songwriter Jeff Black churns out a brand of Midwest farmland rock sometimes akin to that which made superstars out of Mellencamp and Springsteen 20 years ago. It's also much in tune with the melodic rush that boosted the Jayhawks early on.

That doesn't mean Black's approach comes across as stale or dated, though. Tin Lily's 12 tracks comfortably hop from commanding jangle rock ("Libertine," "These Days") to sparse Loudon Wainwright-y confessionals ("Nineteen") to something comfortably in between ("Easy On Me"). Like fellow Midwesterner Freedy Johnston, Black often does an understated melody justice, accentuating themes both upbeat and dour. On "A Better Way," he sings, "Fuck a bunch of broken-hearted bullshit, man/I'm just getting started" not as a belligerent loudmouth but like an old friend who's been through the ringer and emerges bruised but hopeful.

A host of guests including John Prine bassist David Jacques, mandolinist Sam Bush, and Todd Snider/Tommy Womack guitarist Will Kimbrough accentuate the album's flavor by playing the reliable bar band that never was. With its stark black and white design (a constant in Black's album packaging thus far) and lived-in material, Tin Lily is nothing too fancy. It is, however, built on a confident and sturdy foundation.??