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The Black Lillies The Black Lillies
Album: Hard To Please
Label: Thirty Tigers
Tracks: 10

Their musical shading closer to the Crowes than the Feathers, The Black Lillies hail from Knoxville and, currently, line up as frontman Cruz Contreras alongside, bassist Sam Quinn, drummer Bowman Townsend, guitarist Dustin Schaefer, pedal steel player Jonathan Keeney (and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Haley Cole. That, however, isn't the line-up on the album. With two weeks to go before they went into the studio to record, two of then five piece outfit, guitarist Tom Pryor and bassist Robert Richards, announced they were moving on. They don't appear on the album, but there again, neither do their replacements. Instead, bass duties are handled by Bill Reynolds from Band of Horses with guitars variously provided by Kris Donegan and Daniel Donato while Matt Smith stepped in to play lap/pedal steel and banjo. Drummer Townsend remains a constant, but Trisha Gene Brady, who sang harmony and occasional lead on the tracks here has since also departed. So, in effect only two of the present band actually appear on the album, begging the question as to whether it represents the way they sound today. Especially since it's only now getting a UK release, after being released in America in 2015.

It pretty much covers most of the Southern bar band categories, from the funky blues rock swagger of the title track opener, through the Brady-sung 'The First Time's brassy soul swing and the fingerpicked folksiness of 'Desire' (a musical second cousin to Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire') and the juke joint cantina boogie of '40 Days' recounting their wild first national tour.

As seasoned live performers, they also know to mix up the tempo, so, while 'That's The Way It Goes Down', a song of raw self-reflection that dates back to 2014, offers a rolling Eagles-esque alt-country rhythm, it's immediately followed by Contreras accompanying himself on electric piano for the bluesy soul, horns-backed slow dance 'Mercy', while, later on, the duet 'Bound To Roam' draws on traditional American folk roots and' another duet' 'Dancin'', is good ole' hayseed stomping.

They don't stint on value either, only one number clocking in at under four minutes, the penultimate tempo-gathering spooked electric folk-rocker 'Broken Shore' with its banjo and fiddle stretching to five and a half in telling the story of Contreras' grandfather who fought at Iwo Jima before closing with the appropriately titled 'Fade', an aching don't leave acoustic ballad stripped back to piano, pump organ, bass, banjo, drums and shaker.

Given all the changes, it may, musically, be more of a historical artefact for the fans than a current statement for newcomers, but whichever way you approach things, you'd have to be really hard to please not to get off on what it offers.

Mike Davies