Black Dub was a band/collaboration/project created by master-producer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Lanois. I found this the way I find most good music, when searching for some other music entirely…
In this case it was a clear correlation, a logical segue – I was looking at Lanois videos on YouTube (the guy can produce U2 all he wants, I still love his guitar playing when he occasionally treats us to it). And I wondered what Black Dub was – so I had a look.
Mention of either of them would have sold it to me also – Blade especially. I’d heard Whitley before. She can sing. And I’d check her music out at any rate, basically out of respect for the work her father (Chris Whitley) offered. I imagine he’d shake his head at all the Ben Harpers, John Mayers – and here in New Zealand Thomas Oliver Bands that have flirted with blues in a way that makes a mockery of it, distorts and cheapens it – and is, really, only blues-based in any way to people who never listen to blues.
But importantly I imagine he would hold his head high if he could hear his daughter’s work. She’s carrying on a legacy. She, like her dad, is the real deal.
Black Dub released a self-titled album (it also features the stellar bass-work of Daryl Johnson) that is very much identifiable as coming from the Daniel Lanois sound. It is all swampy-fog and audio hue-like, guitars cling to the songs; so do the keys. A shade-cloth of effects is draped over that sound. Then there’s an ethereal hollowness – the drums are bright and brittle; between the two sets of sound contrasts there is, importantly, space.
It might be worth mentioning that all four players worked with Chris Whitley – Johnson in particular.
It’s no secret that Lanois is a fan of dub; he borrows from it in some ways to create his sonic constructions. He’s an avid listener too. But this album does not really lean too heavily on dub – despite being called that. It does not lean too heavily on blues or jazz or anything that could have been considered a black genre. It does not have a blackness to it or darkness to it in a gothic sense. Well, not overtly.
It is such a mix of ideas and styles that perhaps you can read anything in to it and add that to the understanding of the band/album title. Certainly, Lanois has created some form of gothic Americana in his productions for Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson and in his own albums too. So in that sense there’s a darkness, a shade or shading (or two). But still I find Black Dub to be a strange, unappealing and unrepresentative name.
That is no huge issue though – I don’t listen to bands because of what they are called. I think Lil’ Band O’ Gold is a terrible name too and they created one of my favourite recent albums also, and gave a couple of incredible shows here, one in particular.
I mentioned Lanois as a multi-instrumentalist – which of course he is – but this is a band of writers/multi-instrumentalists.
Brian Blade has played as a jazzer, he’s played country, pop, blues and rock – and after leading his own jazz combos he recently a solo album where he plays anything but drums, writing and singing also. It’s worth a listen.
Trixie Whitley plays keys and guitar and sings and writes. She also plays drums – not on the Black Dub record, mind. And when I say she plays drums, this is not some singer/songwriter hoping to clatter and bash about for a laugh. She’s got a facility for groove.
So that informs Black Dub; the fact that three multi-talented voices are all coming together. There’s also the idea of the veterans sharing the stage with someone much younger; a newer voice/sound.
Lanois has done most of the writing on the first album – and that amazed me because Whitley delivers these lyrics as if they are hers. That in itself is a skill. Certainly at a young age – and when she has been writing herself already. She is open, alert, aware – ready to challenge and be challenged.
I also really like how you get to see – in the batches of black’n’white clips from the studio prepared for YouTube – Daniel Lanois actively in the role of producer, knowing the song, coaxing the performance, channelling, promoting, issuing, urging, propelling… (See here)
I could listen to this album just for Brian Blade’s playing. He is inventive, precise but always full of soul – a real feel player. I could listen to this album for Lanois’ playing. And for his production.
But I’m so glad to hear Whitley being used here. And to hear her really contributing. She’s perhaps undervalued here on an album where Johnson’s bass playing is sublime (listen again here) and Lanois and Blade have such obvious gifts and are so comfortable playing together.
It’s funny to think of the lead singer as the silent star.
But in many ways she is exactly that with this album. Whitley has made solo records since this but I still long for another Black Dub record.
It’s fresh – and heartening – to hear her working on this level given that we are so regularly offered/forced these Amy Winehouse and Anastasia-derived divas. And why are they instantly divas anyway? Duffy was, let’s be honest, not a diva. She was in fact little more than one song. One song that had been sung many times before. It might have had a snap and a crackle, even if there wasn’t quite the pop that the record company told you to expect, but that second album of hers disappeared. As it should. It’s that common second album trap – one more time, with even less feeling.
And there are so many other examples of these singers-called-divas that take the dive all in the hope that someone can say they discovered the next Norah Jones or Alanis Morissette (sales-wise).
Listening to Trixie Whitley on the Black Dub album makes me wish that a record label or manager would care enough to get a copy of this album to Hollie Smith; to tell her to listen to it; to explain how important it is to build a sound, not just bust out (and basically bust) your set of pipes.
But that’ll never happen. Labels don’t care about that. They care about the instant dollar not the investment.
And the flipside is – we’re lucky, too – no label will try and pick up Black Dub and force it down your throat. I almost wonder if Lanois used that name to be, somewhat, unappealing in that sense.
At any rate – the joy (for me) of listening to Black Dub is that it is all about the sound; the music, the muse, the magic. And it is all around, in every fibre of every piece, every moment of this album.
It’s good to find music by mistake – or close enough to it.
Now I just want them to shelve all their solo projects and make another Black Dub album…