Music review: The Black Lillies

Black Lillies' vocals are reminiscent of Gram and Emmylou, Johnny and June.
BY GENE TRIPLETT Entertainment Editor etriplett@opubco.com Modified: March 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm •  Published: March 29, 2013
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ALTERNATIVE COUNTRY

The Black Lillies ‘Runaway Freeway Blues' (North Knox Records)

The Black Lillies are fronted by the best-matched male-female vocal duo since Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, if you're talking Laurel Canyon-style country music. Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady's voices were meant to be married to each other on tunes such as the melancholic folk-rock ballad beauty “The Fall,” the opening track of their superb sophomore album, “Runaway Freeway Blues.” Acoustic and electric guitars (Contreras and Josh Oliver, respectively) and banjo (Matt Menfee) create a sparkling musical stream that carries Contreras and Brady's individual vocals and harmonies through lyrical images of deserts and oceans and two hearts reaching across them to find one another.

The more upbeat and bluegrassy “Gold and Roses” adds the extra texture of high-lonesome pedal steel (Tom Pryor), and lo and behold it's the late '60s again on the moody anti-war ballad “Goodbye Charlie,” a song about an Appalachian boy who's drafted into the Vietnam War and forced to become a man with an M-16 in his hand. Then there's the smoking and jubilant, harmonica-laced vocal trade-off of the rocking “Smokestack Lady,” which brings to mind the kind of boot-stomping fun Johnny and June used to have together.

The album was masterfully recorded and mixed by Scott Minor of Sparklehorse. All 11 songs are brilliant Contreras originals and Knoxville, Tenn., hasn't produced a tighter band than this since who knows when. No wonder they're one of the first independent groups to play the Grand Ole Opry, and the only act ever to be asked back 15 times in one year.

— Gene Triplett