Little Black Flies
Eddie 9V is a fascinating modern blues force. A mere 25 years old, he's prolific, releasing something every year. Last year was Way Down the Alley (Live at Blind Willie’s), a live album, and before that was 2019's Left My Soul In Memphis, where he played all of the instruments himself. And he returns with Little Black Flies, full of Black Keys inspired soul-blues grooves, and which 9V and his band recorded live in the studio.
The construction of the three albums is interesting because Left My Soul in Memphis required planning and a certain amount of deliberation, since 9V couldn't record all of the instruments simultaneously (although it's certainly possible), where the other two releases flowed more spontaneously. A great live performance, even one that's live to tape, has a vitality, but it doesn't always yield what's best for the song. Sometimes artists need multiple takes to figure out the best tempo and arrangement and while Little Black Flies is a superb, fun album, one can't help but wonder how extraordinary it would be with a bit more refinement.
Because this album is so good, you tend to notice the flaws more easily, the same way a few dings are easy to miss on a beat-up old car, but practically explode off of a brand new one. 9V creates some wonderful tracks, like his take on Albert King's "Travelin' Man." The original feels too horn-laden to me, but 9V reimagines the song with a bigger groove that also breathes more than the original, the overwhelming horns replaced by 9V's guitar. The track might be more of a tribute to the spirit of Jimi Hendrix than King, but it's an infectious track I haven't been able to stop listening to.
Compare that to "Reach Into Your Heart," a solid original written by 9V and producer/bassist Lane Kelly. It's a Black Keys soul groove, and similarly catchy, but also one that starts with 9V giving the listener everything he has, emotionally. There's no build. There's no big reveal. The song begins at 90 miles per hour. 9V and the band are more than capable of maintaining that speed, but many of us prefer a slower simmer of a song that gradually builds to the explosive release, rather than leading with it.
The track, like many of the others, also features 9V directing his band, here instructing them to hit him on the one beat. It's a tough move to pull off, unless you're James Brown, and is another thing that, given a longer reflection opportunity, 9V might have chosen to edit out. Because the songs are electric. There's no doubt this was live. He didn't need to leave the patter on to convince anyone.
"3AM in Chicago," another 9V/Kelly collaboration, also has a strong Black Keys sensibility, but with a bit more restraint, from the subtle horns to 9V's singing in a lower register that works well for his voice. Like so many of the songs here, you'll walk around humming the hook for hours after you've heard it.
Little Black Flies is a flawed album, but also one I can't stop listening to and thinking about. Too many artists try to play it safe with their work and 9V doesn't suffer from that affliction. Hearing him work things out in public like this, with improvements on every album, only makes me more excited to hear how his work evolves. It's worth the minor growing pains.