Sifting Through The Shadows–The Black & Blue Orkestre’s Hurt Me Tender

Black & Blue Orkestre
Hurt Me Tender

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It’s no surprise that the Black & Blue Orkestre’s debut is one of the most thoughtful and poetic albums of the year. After all, the band’s lead singer is director Tom DiCillo, whose made some of the most thoughtful and poetic movies (“Living in Oblivion,” “Box Of Moonlight”) of the last thirty years.

So there’s that.  But there’s a lot more.

Hurt Me Tender is a smooth and dark affair—a slow burn of aching, bluesy ballads, midnight surf and gothic country that brings to mind everyone from Johnny Cash to Richard Hawley.  Flanked by guitarist Will Crewdson (Rachel Stamp, Adam Ant) and the fetching, mono-named bassist Grog (Feline, Die So Fluid), DiCillo and his band march through these numbers with an effortlessness that most bands wait years to possess.

Brimming with fiery resolve, the catchy opener “Torn” finds DiCillo confessing, “I’ve been shunned/And I’ve been shattered” but later admitting he’s still determined to, “squeeze some water from your heart of stone.”  Later,”Ball And Chain” burns with rueful muscle, the ghostly power of “Fade To Black” elegantly sifts through the shadows of regret and “Nervous Laughter” is a dusky shuffle that sounds like a cross between Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and just about anything off of The Dream Syndicate’s Days Of Wine And Roses.

Elsewhere, the soaring “Whiskey Promise” finds DiCillo promising, “I swear this time I really feel a change…” while the nasty blues of “Shoe Shine Shuffle” is lyrically one of the finest songs of this waning year.

What makes DiCillo so compelling as a singer is that whether it’s the howling blues of “Slide On” or the dark, rueful promise of “We’re Going Down”  he’s completely at home in the groove.  And Hurt Me Tender is rich on groove–it’s a big, sexy record that’s filled with cascading rhythms, rich melodies and a moody intensity that coils and uncoils from song to song. It’s a lustrous, melodic album filled with humor, heart and honesty, but it’s also an album that’s not afraid to peer into the darkness and take a good long look around.

Rumi once wrote, “What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

Which explains why this is one of the brightest records I’ve heard in years.

—Alex Green