Darren Black is a Welsh born singer-songwriter based in Hampshire, UK. Though he may have flown under the radar through the years, Black is a seasoned artist with five full-length’s behind him. His debut solo album, “Silent Poetry”, was released back in 2007, recorded in the legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick’s home studio.
Black’s latest album “Playing with the Truth” sees him collaborating with trumpeter Stewart Prosser and pianist Robert Sword. The album doesn’t divert away from Black’s characteristic style, driven by his guitar and soft mellow vocals, but with Prosser and Sword’s contributions it only makes for a much richer listening experience.
The opening song of the album, “Shadows Leave”, is deeply emotive both lyrically and instrumentally. Black’s vocals and minimal guitar arrangement blend beautifully with the piano. The gentle, repetitive guitar strums produce the sombre backbone of the song, while the piano hints at an escape from the monotony, a glimpse of hope.
“Shallow boxes full of sifted sand
On the sideboard so they’re close to hand
Put my worries in and watch them fall
Through the grains and filter out my weak and troubled soul”
As “Shadows Leave” come to an end, “The Clown” makes an entrance. The piano does the groundwork on this track, producing a wonderfully jazzy atmosphere. A little before the two minute mark, Prosser makes his appearance with a soulful brass section.
“The mouth it may smile, but look at the eyes
They’ll tell you all you should know
Fooled by a clown when the veil comes down and goes
Boom, boom, boom”
“The Clown” is a magnificent track and though the lyrics are delivered in a more poetic light, there’s no doubt about the fact that this is a kick in the face to the people in power. Black calls out the politicians who manipulate and lie to the public, masquerading as part of the common people, hiding their insidious intentions.
As we delve further into the album, the brass sections become more apparent, providing a welcome sharpness to the sound; especially on tracks like “Social Cemetery” and “Take It All”. Sometimes brass sections can be overpowering, but that’s definitely not the case on this album. There’s a modesty in the arrangements, which allows you to take in the beauty of each individual instrument. Darren Black certainly doesn’t need an orchestra to make something grand, because even the most bare compositions of his are full of character.
The songwriting on the album is incredibly powerful. Darren Black’s lyrical universe is one inspired deeply by social justice and environmental consciousness. “Playing the Truth” approaches so many subjects, despite the fact that there’s only 8 tracks.
“Whitewash the past
Whitewash the last
Shades of a darker past
Easy to play innocent
Sleeping dogs left because
Cages shaken – trouble caused”
That’s an excerpt of the lyrics from “Historical Amnesia”, a song Black was inspired to write after visiting the “Empire Through The Lens” exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Colonialism is deeply at the heart of British history and Western history in general, yet the educational system has failed to convey the real impact of colonialism on its victims, whitewashing a history of genocide, famines, slavery and apartheid.
Each song on the album has a relevancy to the world’s current state of affairs, but the songwriting is not doom and gloom. Black doesn’t wallow in the grimness of the mess we’re in, instead he inspires us to grow and improve in spite of it.
“Playing with the Truth” is an extraordinary album, defined by some of the finest musicianship and songwriting, giving us succour in times of hardship and uncertainty. Though very timely, I don’t doubt that this album will become timeless.
So dear, it’s a new year
What shall we do
What we didn’t do last year
That’s what we shall do
Write down all the failures
Nail down where they grew
Burn them in the garden
Feed the roses in the ruins
Click here to purchase this album