This past September, the Black Lillies released their new album, Stranger To Me (Attack Monkey/Thirty Tigers). Even though it’s their fifth full length, it’s the first album where we get to hear Sam Quinn (bass, vocals), and Dustin Schaefer (guitar, harmony vocals) join veteran Bowman Townsend (drums), with founder and front man Cruz Contreras (vocals, guitars, piano, organ).
Full disclosure: I’m by no means a scholar of the Lillies’ back catalogue, but it’s apparent that this new line up has reinvigorated the band. While this record still falls squarely in the Lillies’ (and Americana) realm, it leans much more to the rock and roll side of the Americana/alt-country spectrum, full of loud guitars that are equal parts overdriven crunch as they are clear and jangly.
A prime example is the lead off track, “Ten Years,” which features the aforementioned combination of chunky, palm muted chords with some cleaner, chime-y guitar lines that (along with some great organ work by producer Jamie Candiloro, whose organ playing is somewhat of a secret weapon on this album) bring the song together. Others, such as “No Other Way,” are just as rocking, while “Midnight Stranger,” veers toward a more sleazy, funky 70s classic rock vibe.
Unlike some of their previous releases, Stranger To Me also features songs that were co-written by the whole band. “Out of the Blue” is a particular standout–it features some choice three part harmonies, and highlights Schaefer’s amazing guitar work, from the opening main riff to a gorgeous guitar solo at the end. Others, such as “Joy and Misery” and “Earthquake,” are softer, sentimental tunes that provide a great change of pace and give the overall album some balance.
Stranger is also the first album to feature songs written and sung by Quinn (he also has co-writing credits with Cruz on three other tracks). Ironically, it was one of his songs, “Weighting,” that first grabbed my attention. With its propulsive verse and dynamic chorus, highlighted by Quinn’s vocals (which have a much more indie rock delivery than Cruz’s twang), it’s definitely the “most rock” sounding cut on the album.
While Stranger to Me may be seen as a slight departure from the Lillies’ previous works, it highlights the cohesiveness of this particular unit and hints at the potential of more songs written by the whole band, or more Quinn or Cruz-Quinn collaborations. It’s always a treat to hear bands with beautiful multiple part harmonies—but to have a band that can achieve that and have multiple, capable songwriters? Seems strange to me these days, but in a good way. http://theblacklillies.com/