Genuine storytelling is a time-honored custom, passed down through generations, shared with passion and imbued by honesty. For singer/songwriter Amy Black, storytelling – and true Southern tradition – is in her blood, arriving with an undeniable sense of history, an irrepressible passion for performing, and a whole lot of authentic soul. And with her new album One Time, the Boston-based performer takes her shot, makes a stand and delivers one of the most evocative new Americana discs of the year.
“I believe that we get one chance in life.” Amy says. “Every day, with everything we do and every decision we make, we’ve got to make it count. Part of making it count is facing up to the truth. That’s what the characters in my songs are trying to do – tell the truth.” One Time is ruled by the truth, a disc that shares tales of hard times, strong women, and even stronger faith in the things that matter.
The album’s sound – crafted by producer Lorne Entress, best known for Lori McKenna’s Bittertown, as well as his work with such Roots artists as Ollabelle and Catie Curtis – is fueled by a rich mix of folk, blues, classic country and gritty soul that embodies Amy’s distinctive and powerful vocals. But it’s her gift for conjuring flesh and blood characters and emotions that leaves an indelible mark. “Real American Roots music is born from adversity,” she says with a laugh. “Loving, lying, drinking, dying and going to heaven – not necessarily in that order. Sounds kind of sad, but that level of honesty can be refreshing.”
Black’s background is as refreshingly honest as her music. “My parents are from Northern Alabama,” Amy explains. “But my dad is a preacher so we moved around a lot when I was a kid. I grew up in Missouri, moved back to Alabama when I was 14, and then to Boston when I was 16. I think part of my outgoing nature comes from being in a different school almost every year from 13 on. With all the changes, two things I could always count on were singing with my family and visiting my grandparents in Alabama.”
Several times a year Amy would return to her family’s small hometown where her granddad, Thomas Reuben Jones, remained a core influence. “Man, did I love listening to him tell stories,” she remembers. “He grew up red-dirt poor in Waterloo, Alabama, put himself through college, worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority for decades and then started his own business. His stories were so rich with detail and he’d laugh when he told them. He was a bit of a showman and I think he passed that on me.”
Amy sang publicly throughout her teens and fronted bands in college, but she did little with her music for nearly a decade while she built a career as a successful marketing professional. Her love for singing, however, would not be quelled. “About four years ago,” she says, “I told myself ‘it’s now or never.’”
Her success at local open mic nights quickly led to a growing following. Before long, Amy had put together a band of some of the area’s most accomplished and eclectic musicians and become one of the region’s most popular Americana acts. In 2009, her debut album Amy Black & The Red Clay Rascals paid tribute to her favorite songwriters while featuring two impressive originals. “Don’t be fooled by the fact that their set list is mostly covers,” hailed The Boston Globe. “Black and her band put their own rootsy Americana stamp on everything from country (Emmylou Harris’s “Red Dirt Girl’’) to soul (Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine’’) to rock ’n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog’’), all highlights from their new self-titled debut.”
With One Time, Amy’s powerful voice and presence are now matched by the commanding range of her own writing. Through it all, the tracks glow with a mix of traditional acoustic instrumentation – including guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, upright bass, accordion, and a touch of harmonica – along with tasteful accents of electric guitar, lap and pedal steel. The all-star cast of musicians includes the guitar playing of New England favorites, Tim Gearan, Lyle Brewer and Mark Erelli with Roger Williams on dobro, Jesse Williams on bass and Nashville’s legendary Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin. Producer Lorne Entress provides most of the percussion and members of Amy’s original live band, Bob Sevigny (guitar), Andy Sicard (bass) and Eric Pohl (percussion) also make appearances on the CD.
The characters in “Molly” and “Whiskey And Wine” ache with bittersweet yearning in a world of pleasure and pain. “All My Love” simmers with seduction, while “Meet Me On The Dance Floor” is a flirty delight. “Stay”, featuring harmony vocals by Amy’s little sister Corrie Jones, swings with grown-up romance and “Run Johnny”, one of six songs featuring Nashville’s legendary fiddler Stuart Duncan, crackles with the bluesy menace of classic Bonnie Raitt. The album’s three covers, including a fiery take on Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and the gospel burner “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)”, are testaments to Amy’s unquestionable feel for classic material. And in the album’s potent title track, the plaintive lyric ”Time for you to make a break/And show what you’re good for” could describe Black’s own current bold career move.
“I may not be telling my own stories,” Amy says, “but I’m connecting and empathizing with every character and emotion I’m writing about. Life isn’t always what people hope it’s going to be, and that’s everyone’s reality on some level.” For Amy Black, that reality is captured on One Time. And truly, her time is now.