Review: Luther Black And The Cold Hard Facts – Moment Of Truth (English Version)
Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts – Moment Of Truth (English Version)
Format: Download via Bandcamp and other platforms – Streaming
Label: DA Records (Independent label associated with music publisher Drunken Angel)
Reviewed by Fons Delemarre
Dutch text translated by Jim Wake
Happily, all of the singles Luther Black sent out prior to the release of his new album ‘Moment of Truth’ ended up on the album. A good thing too, since it would be a shame if you bought the album and missed out on such gems as Long Way to Go, Alamo Way, or the Dylan cover Most of the Time. Together with eight other tunes, they give a pretty good idea of the music of Rick Wagner (aka Luther Black and The Cold Hard Facts). You won’t find too many knee-slappers in his repertoire, but what he does do is make understated, beautiful, melancholic songs.
For example, on Alamo Way: even the climax, featuring lovely female backing vocals by Brandi Thompson and Dina Regine, still sounds rather restrained. Pilgrim’s Plight, the tasteful instrumental that follows, provides the listener with an opportunity for emotional respite. But then that’s followed immediately by a politically laden tune with the almost despairing title What Are We Fighting For? A tune that unfolds with such robust – yet still subtle – orchestration that it will send a chill down your spine. The lonely violin and sparse twangy guitar lines on The Rest of My Days show Rick Wagner once again excelling at what he does best: producing a gorgeous musical miniature with just a few words and without resorting to powerhouse vocals.
‘Moment Of Truth’ opens with America’s Way, a cinematic instrumental that sets the tone for what is to come, as you’ll discover once you’ve listened to more of the album. That is, a bit dark, rather somber, but above all, atmospheric. Rick Wagner/Luther Black clearly feels a debt of gratitude to musicans like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and other interpreters of “outlaw country”. In particular, Ray Wylie Hubbard is a great source of inspiration, especially when it comes to lyrics. One salient detail: in keeping with the Outlaw Country music tradition, his music publisher is Drunken Angel Music …
Luther Black explicitly cites Ray Wylie Hubbard as his inspiration for Track Two – Long Way to Go, previously released as a single. “Ray’s song Mother Blues has one my all-time favorite lyrics, the line about keeping your gratitude higher than your expectations,” he notes. “So I played on that a little. Ray is one of my musical heroes, and also the king of name checks in his songs. So I figured turnabout is fair play.”
Perhaps the best example of the sound Wagner aspires to is on his cover of Dylan’s Most of the Time from the 1989 album Oh Mercy. The producer on that album was Daniel Lanois, who also produced U2 and made a number of fine solo albums, including Shine. Wagner fleshes out his version of Most of the Time with a floating, softly surging sound palette. The track is one of the highpoints on the album and fits in seamlessly with the other tunes , all of which were penned by Wagner himself.
Wagner recorded most of the songs on Moment of Truth during the lockdown, when he retreated to his studio and engaged in a series of remote recording sessions with his friends. “It is a much more personal album than its predecessor,” says Wagner. “One thing the pandemic has done is it has given us a lot of time for reflection and putting things into perspective. I wrote a bunch of songs that I probably would not have written otherwise.”
The last track on Moment of Truth is a tribute to his deceased friend John Prine. “The morning after John Prine left us I was sitting in my studio, alone with a guitar and a melancholy feeling,” he recalls. “I started fingerpicking in a very Prine-ish way and somehow I summoned his spirit. I decided then and there I was going to write an homage to him.”
In Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts, Wagner leans heavily on Matt Wissler, who plays guitar and mandolin and provides backing vocals on the album. Wagner describes him as his sounding board, and says the album would not exist without him.
I asked Wagner about the name of the band and he offered a clear and matter-of-fact reply: “Nothing special about the name. I just like the way it sounds.” Duly noted.
As requested by Rick Wagner himself, here are the download links: https://lutherblackandthecoldhardfacts.bandcamp.com/album/moment-of-truth and www.lutherblack.com. It is not currently available on CD or vinyl but maybe in the future.
A number of reviews from various media, including Bluestown Music, have been posted on the Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts website:
Hits with a cool sincerity that is a genuine rarity in the modern musical landscape.
Great stories about wisdom gained from hardscrabble living…. similar to Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt
AMERICANA MUSIC SHOW
Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts are really what outlaw rock and roll is all about.
A great album, for lovers of carefully crafted, atmospheric country pop-like, rock/singer-songwriter music
BLUESTOWN MUSIC NL
Impressive…. and that’s a fact.
01. America’s Moment
02. Long Way To Go
04. Most Of The Time
05. Before I Stop Loving You
06. Take Me Back
07. Hold On To Your Dreams
08. Alamo Way
09. The Pilgrim’s Plight
10. What Are We Fighting For?
11. The Rest Of My Days
12. Heartbreak Lullabye
Produced by Rick Wagner
Rick Wagner – vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, harmonica, string arrangements
Matt Wissler – guitar, mandolin, background vocals
Rebecca Weiner Tompkins (violin, track 7,11)
Will Rigby (drums, track 3,11)
Jonathan Kampner (drums, track 8)
Nick Prokopchak (hand drums, track 1,9)
Brandi Thompson (background vocals, track 8)
Dina Regine (background vocals, track 8)
Naomi McMechen (background vocals, track 12)
Andy Riedel (pedal steel guitar, track 8)