The Blackbelt Band – A New Community

The Blackbelt Band - A New Community

The Blackbelt Band - A New Community

A New Community is chock-full of rich tones and masterful grooves. This moody chill music by The Blackbelt Band pulls from blues and rock, adding flavors of acid jazz along with whatever other music floats around their hometown of New Orleans. Unfortunately, the band’s promising sounds wither under glaringly bad vocals.

It’s hard to pin a label on these 10 songs. Bands that claim their sound is unrecognizable often sound like crap. This is because the musicians have nothing particular to say, lack the creativity to innovate, and don’t have the talents to mimic their favorite bands. But The Blackbelt Band avoid that fate and show some originality on A New Community. The band consists of 3 core members, then they diversify their sound using the talents of 7 of their other longtime musical compatriots. Their output successfully offers a sense of environment layered with moody nuance.

The Blackbelt Band excels at creating melancholy grooves. Most of the tracks here are built on the same foundation of a tone rich guitar, syrupy bass, and sweet drum work marked by crafty use of the high hat and cymbals. Songs follow fluid guitar leads that range along the neck, never hitting any piercing notes or trying any dirty bends. This is a winning formula, and you don’t pass up a winner. Sadly, The Blackbelt Band goes for more.

The band often launches into rock riffs, employing distortion and constricted rhythms. These ventures crash shortly after takeoff, though the real tragedy is the vocal performance. A variety of singing styles surface throughout A New Community–some work, most don’t. The worst of it is a rough, gruff staccato bark; at crescendos, this vocalist sounds as if he’s going for a bluesy delivery ‘a la Michael McDonald; the result is cringe-worthy, and some decent songs are ruined with this.

One of the better tracks on A New Community is “Not Watching”. This one opens with a laid back bass line  and piano groove. A male and female duet–this the front runner for best vocal performance on the album–enters over the bubbling guitar. Then comes the rock; a sludgy guitar line reaches over rolling tom drums. The song returns to a steady groove, with more vocal harmonies emoting the line “God’s not watching me, God don’t even care / You’ll see me in your dreams, it’s all you’ll ever see of me / and I don’t care”. This nice moment is sacrificed as the male vocalist forces his range and struggles. This music is expressive and unhurried. “Not Watching” has some weaknesses in its melodrama but it basically works, giving a complete picture of what the band is offering.

A New Community has a few compelling instrumental tracks. One, “Cicadas”, opens with a simple, repetitive piano riff. Synths emerge from behind to join the reverb-heavy guitar. These give way to another shining melancholy groove that shows off the band’s ear for great tones and rich sound quality. This music makes for great ambiance.

But for every step forward, the band takes one step back on tracks like “Flowers” and “The Mimic”. Not only are these songs ruined by poor vocal performances, but the meandering, free-ranging guitar pours salt on the wound by losing all sense of direction and wandering off like an Alzheimer’s patient. It’s not a frequent offense, but it is repeated.

Some compositions on A New Community lose their way. They wash over the ears without leaving any mementos to remind you they were there. But the real problem is, of course, the vocals. The band needs a new singer, or they should focus on making instrumentals, combining blues and post-rock and highlighting their impeccable rhythm section.

This album really doesn’t do justice to The Blackbelt Band’s potential.