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Künstler: The Black Swans
Label: Misra
Illustrator: Greg Bonnell


Ohio's Black Swans have come a long way since their 2004 debut Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You? They've undergone personnel changes, released two other albums, and endured more than their fair share of tragedy. The biggest of the latter occurred on July 1, 2008 when violinist Noel Sayre, the anchor in songwriter Jerry DeCicca's ever evolving soundworld, died in a swimming accident. Though they released Words Are Stupid on St. Ives, a boutique label from Secretly Canadian's proprietors, as a limited edition in 2010, (with spare violin tracks lifted from Sayre's hard drive), it is 2011's Don't Blame the Stars that truly features Sayre's final performances, which were recorded live in four days just weeks before his death. DeCicca, on acoustic guitar and harmonica, with electric guitarist Chris Forbes, bassist Canaan Faulkner, drummer Brian Jones, organist Jon Beard, and percussionist Keith Hanlon, have constructed a kind of responsorial album to Willie Nelson's Yesterday's Wine. Though structured somewhat similarly and a very decent album, it is hardly up to those lofty heights. Where Nelson spent his time asking his existential questions to a God he didn't quite understand but appreciated, DeCicca puts forth an agnostic song cycle that places its belief in more fallible constructs like music and human relationships. The music is pleasant and there are some fine songs here. There's the country-meets-soul "Joe Tex," the minor-key, electric narrative "Sunshine Street," the garagey honky tonk in "I Forgot to Change the Windshield Wipers in My Mind," and the breezy, shuffling "Worry Stone." Sayre's playing throughout is deeply moving, disciplined, and inspirational; it is also augmented by a chamber string section. All of that said, DeCicca's ego is out of control. His spoken word intros to many of these songs come off as mere conceits that explain his songs away. Furthermore, his habit of name-checking his heroes is irritating: Sam Cooke, Iris Dement, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Fuller, Elizabeth Cotten, Dion, and Roy Orbison among them (there's even a song entitled "Blue Bayou," that uses just a trace of Orbison's to trick the listener for a brief moment. It's as if he places himself in their company as an equal. He's not. Other than the annoyances listed, Don't Blame the Stars is an enjoyable, fairly well-executed album of decent Americana songs. No more, no less. ~ Thom Jurek