The second album is where push comes to shove, where you have to prove what you can really do. The Chinese say its time to “break the kettles and sink the boats,” literally do or die time at the Battle of Julu in the second century BC as recalled to this day in that phrase. And it might be, as it was for the army of the Chu and Xiang Ju, a turning of the tide.
These days a working band who wishes to write, work and record will find its members making enormous sacrifices, often placing that second project as a priority over the other things one ought be doing with their twenties. Maybe this is why so many bands never make a second album and why those who do develop greater depth and substance in the process.
Black Diet’s debut, Find Your Tambourine, wasn’t recalled with much enthusiasm by the group in Zack McCormack’s great Gimme Noise story about them this week, but its a disc we still put on pretty often here at Hymie’s. Yes, it feels a little like a merch table “rush job” and we recall members telling us about the challenge of coalescing what was then a fairly fresh band. We wish Tambourine were a little longer and sounded like less of a hodge podge, but we still placed it on our list of favorites of the year.
Tambourine‘s true weakness implies Black Diet’s innate strength: the disc didn’t translate their stage presence with much success. Here’s a group who could explode into a celebration of pop so perfect you’d swear you’d heard it before the first time you saw them, and moments later smolder with soul so sweet you’d like to learn every word.
With The Good One, their second album out this weekend, we can finally welcome these moments into our living rooms or our earbuds. Here is what every band wants their second album to be, the turning of the tide which realizes all that yet untapped potential.
The Black Diet of The Good One is a world away from the band on their first single (which we debuted here just over two years ago). The disc is distinctly darker, helping the band effect a modern interpretation of the Stax Studio sound on “Brother” and “Do A Little Wrong,” while also exploring new wave with equal enthusiasm. Where these two impulses meet The Good One touches on magic. True to Piñata Records’ solid tradition, these retro leanings hardly define the album, as they’re blended and then pressed through a modern sieve. This is what keeps Black Diet connected to label-mates Southside Desire, who released their exceptional sophomore album last year. The Good One also often reminds us of one of our favorite albums of all time, Lambchop’s Nixon, which likewise revived retro leanings with enthusiasm and sincerity.
Black Diet sounds far more collaborative on The Good One, which allows for shining moments for percussionist David Tullis (especially in “Fever” and “The Last Person on Earth”) and Sean Schultz, who’s usual supporting role on organ gets a spotlight in “Loving Me Still” in the album’s most joyous solo. The band includes members of other local favorites we have posted here recently, including Black Market Brass (playing live at Hymie’s here) and What Tyrants (whose No Luck is so far our favorite album of the year). Tolliver still reminds us of a tougher Aaron Neville, but his range and expressiveness in The Good One is enormously expanded. There are stunning moment in “Find a New Love” where we realize how much he can sound like H.R., even if Black Diet is worlds apart from Bad Brains. There are also moments where Tolliver has the touching, earthy delivery of Bill Withers (even phrasing “I know, I know…” like Withers did in “Ain’t no Sunshine”). His interactions with backing vocalist Mugsy feel less forced than on Find Your Tambourine. consistently natural and moving (check out “Puddle Jumpers” for a sense of the band’s smoldering soul potential).
Black Diet’s increasingly independent sound is often founded on just the right touches by the lead guitar. We singled out guitarist Mitchell Sigurdson when we wrote about Tambourine last year, and on this album he is all the more inventive while also supportive of his bandmates. This is one of the things which separates Black Diet from other retro-soul acts.
So many things, in fact, distinguish Black Diet, we’re glad they’ve made the commitment to continue collaborating. their dynamism was on display when they released Find Your Tambourine here at our 2014 Record Store Day Block party and Tolliver turned trickling rain into theatrics by hopping from the stage to dance with a little boy in the crowd (Radio K photographer Shannon Glenn captured the moment here). The sextet’s capacity to captivate crowds along with back-to-back “best new band” wins (well deserved, we’d say) placed a lot of pressure on them to break after releasing an album, rather than break up, as it seemed for a while. With their second album they’ve lived up to every expectation.
The release show for The Good One by Black Diet is tomorrow, July 24th at First Avenue. Also performing are Southside Desire, Bloodshot Records’ distinctive soul act JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, and the uniquely Minnesotan country-rock Red Daughters. Details here.