Amy Black: The Preacher’s Kid Sure Can Play
She’s a PK, and so it seems fitting that Amy Black was invited to the Me & Thee Coffeehouse series in Marblehead last weekend. The preacher’s kid was raised in the Missouri heartland and among the good folks of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, moving to New England at sixteen when her father accepted a new church assignment. For Amy, the warm wood pews and pipe organ of fellowship hall must have offered a familiar welcome on Friday evening. So did the church kitchen. There were generous servings of gooey homemade desserts from a gracious volunteer staff. The strongest brew on tap was a piping hot cup of apple cider.
The potent stuff came from the stage. Amy Black has a rich voice layered with a light, natural vibrato. It’s a smooth, seductive sound and one that easily commands attention. I had heard Amy sing once before, not in concert but in a songwriting class where she acted as teaching assistant. Her rendition of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” opened eyes and ears around the classroom. The same was true on Friday night. The audience was focused and invested in a set that drew heavily from One Time, the 2011 album release that features Amy’s original Americana songwriting and voice.
Most of that album’s songs describe relationships, and Amy talked briefly about the supportive family that has influenced her writing. One Time is dedicated to Thomas Reuben Jones, the grandfather from Waterloo, Alabama who grew up with red clay between his toes and a ready story on his tongue. Amy’s knack for storytelling may come from her grandfather, and at its best her songwriting is like any good script; there is depth and suggestion, but the conclusion is left to the listener.
On Friday night “Whiskey and Wine” best illustrated the strength of Amy’s songwriting, and the warm texture of her voice. As the writer’s mother has been known to explain, the song isn’t about drinking. It’s about a complicated love where “Pleasure and pain, I think they’re twin sisters” and while “I know I love you, and I hope you love me, too…maybe that ain’t what this is all about”. Unlike the black and white stories of many contemporary songs, these lyrics confess to the complexity of real human relationships, but leave the listener to decide the details. The words and melody flow in harmony; there are just enough syllables to deliver the message without weighing down the song. On this night the ballad was delivered with a gentle passion that was compelling.
Amy was backed by three of her four band members on Friday evening including Bob Sevigny on acoustic guitar, Jim Scoppa on electric guitar and John Styklunas on guitar and upright bass. All three are accomplished musicians. Boston luthier and bassist John Styklunas hand built the upright bass played on stage. Bob Sevigny is a self taught musician who has played bluegrass, old time and swing rhythm guitar for string bands across the northeast. Lead guitarist and Boston Music Award recipient Jim Scoppa has played with various groups over a long career including “The Rattlesnakes with Tom Hambridge”. It was Scoppa’s solo guitar play on mid and uptempo tunes like “One Time” that riveted heads stage right.
While Amy is billed as a folk/Americana artist, her songwriting and performance harken to a traditional country style that sets her apart from the popular music now played in Nashville. It’s refreshing; I do believe that the one time I’ve heard the Amy Black Band in concert won’t be the last.
For more on Amy Black, visit her official website here. For a look at Friday night’s Coffeehouse show, enjoy the following videos of “One Time”, the title track from the 2011 album that tells a good friend she’d best get going and get gone, and “Meet Me on the Dance Floor”, album track #9, and a candidate for a little swing dancing. Learn more about the Me & Thee Coffeehouse acoustic music series here.