Amazing debut album from the Los Angeles-based singer Marley Munroe who records and performs under the name Lady Blackbird. With her single “Blackbird”, the 1963 Nina Simone anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, her recording tragically has become the 2020/21 version of the current race and class oppressions. Her voice is exceptionally full of wisdom, pain, and joy and so totally unique and vulnerable.
Vocalist and guitarist Chris Seefried produced the album and also plays acoustic and electric guitar. It’s a pretty subtle and stripped down production with classic mastering courtesy of the master himself, Bernie Grundman, the chief mastering engineer of the A&M studios and responsible for so many timeless albums recorded between 1968 and 1984. I’m glad that Lady Blackbird chose not to dive into the shouting old-school soul, nostalgic R&B sounds of the 60s and 70s, even though she is certainly capable of handling that as well. But instead, this album is full of slow, calm, and tender songs showcasing her brutally deep and intense voice to the most brilliant effect. Just listen to the Seefried ballad “Nobody’s Sweetheart” and simply melt away.
She turns the Joe Walsh song “Collage” (from the 1969 debut album by The James Gang) into a crying accusation. The song works pretty well with subtle synth and piano work by Deron Johnson and percussion backdrops by Jimmy Paxson. The overall sound and mood of the album is probably closest to what Macy Gray did on her 2016 album “Stripped”. “Five Feet Tall” is a tender jazz ballad with Bill Evans-like piano and thick double bass lines from Jon Flaugher. In fact, Lady Blackbird uses Bill Evans as the backing for one of the album’s most beautiful songs: on “Fix It”, she soothes and heals over “Peace Piece”, one of Bill’s timeless songs, but also echoing “Some Other Time” from “Waltz For Debby”. Brilliant and fantastic. “When you’re lost without a clue/I’ll fix it for you”. Thank you!
Marley turns to a bluesier side on the Sam Cooke song “Lost And Looking”, but maintains the beautifully somber mood. She totally outshines the original Irma Thomas version of “Ruler Of My Heart”. When she sings “my heart cries out”, it actually really comes across like that. Album highlight number 2 is the Tim Hardin-penned “It’ll Never Happen Again” from Tim’s debut album from 1966 (he also wrote “If I Were A Carpenter”). If this track and her performance doesn’t move you, you must be deaf or cold. Or both. Total bliss. It almost always moves me to tears. Her voice soars and thrills and pierces directly through your heart.
On the Eugene Dixon-penned “Beware The Stranger”, she uses haunting backing vocals to underscore the dangerous and uncanny topic. A little change in sound can be heard on “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, another one of those late-night gems composed by Chris Seefried. Trombone Shorty adds a tender and moving trumpet here. Her “anymore” when she sings “I’m nobody’s sweetheart anymore” is worth the price alone. The title track, written by the whole group, features more of those haunting grooves, with brooding mellotron and synth backing a mysterious finale on one of the most amazing debuts to come out in years.