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Album Review: The Black Lillies–Hard to Please

Rating: 9/10

Well, credit to Derek of
Country Perspective
because until he reviewed this album, I had never heard of The Black Lillies. However, this is their fourth studio album, and they are certainly a group worth checking out. Blending country, rock, and blues, they have been a staple in Americana since 2009 and have formed a unique sound that many people will enjoy.

The album’s title track and opener, “Hard to Please,” is a rocking track about a woman who is, well, hard to please. The harmonies between frontman Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady work well in this song, and the rock guitars add a nice touch. “That’s the Way it Goes Down” is another rocking song–it’s a song about forgetting our mistakes and looking forward. Once again, I am struck by the harmonies, a fact which I will stop repeating, as it is consistent throughout the album. The guitar solo in this song really adds to it. “Mercy” is a beautiful song about a couple who admit they simply need each other. “It ain’t easy for a grown man to confide that I need your love, flesh and blood, that’s why I’m calling, calling on you”–what a line. This song blends country, blues, and gospel into a unique sound that adds even more to the track. It’s definitely a standout on the album.

Trisha Gene Brady sings lead on “The First Time,” a heartbreak song about a man who continues to let her down. Trisha should take the lead on more songs, in my opinion–her bluesy voice is just incredible. The album turns decidedly more country at this point. “Bound to Roam” is an excellently written song about two lovers, Willie and Sarah; Willie is a rambler, and Sarah wants him to stop roaming and stay with her. The song tells the story, through their dialogue, of their last conversations and moments together. Everything about this song is excellent, from the vocals to the songwriting to the production; if you pick one song by this group to listen to, make it this one. “Dancin'” is another one of my favorites–here, a couple is seeking to rekindle their love by going dancing together. This song features a nice country beat and some great steel guitar. Speaking of steel guitar, you will find plenty of it on “Desire.” This is the third excellent track in a row–here, Cruz Contreras takes the lead and sings about a lost love, whom he clearly still keeps in his heart. Contreras sings, “Desire, oh desire, you can look away, but it still remains. You can’t hide that burning flame of desire.”

“Forty Days” takes the album back to a more upbeat, country rock feel. The band sings about forty days of touring on the road; it’s a fun song that is just pleasant to listen to. The piano in this song is excellent. There are better songs on Hard to Please, but this is one which I think will be enjoyed universally. “Broken Shore” was written by Contreras for his grandfather, who fought in Iwo Jima–it’s yet another excellently written song, and I can’t really do it justice with words. Contreras and Brady repeat the line, “Which way is heaven and which way is hell, it’s so hard to tell”–what a lyric. The instrumentation in this song is phenomenal, and if you had a shortage of mandolin or fiddle, you should listen to this track. Hard to Please closes with “Fade,” another well-written song in which the narrator is asking his love to promise him that she will not “fade away.” The piano works really well in this song, and it features more of those remarkable harmonies between Contreras and Brady.

Overall, I was really impressed by this album. Having never heard of The Black Lillies, I can say that this album has made me a fan. This album blends country, rock, blues, and even gospel at times, and the band excels at all of these styles. Aside from the unique sound, many of the songs have truly excellent lyrics. It is not often that an album or group is equally impressive in sound and songwriting quality, but The Black Lillies have achieved this with Hard to Please. This is definitely an album worth many listens.

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