From the title, you might think you know what to expect from LA musician Marley Munroe’s debut album as Lady Blackbird. It conjures up thoughts of Hendrix-ish guitars, P-Funk grandiloquence, Afrofuturism. But the old one about judging a book by its cover remains as true as ever.
There are moments of intensity here: rumbling drums and cinematic strings underpin her version of the James Gang’s Collage; the title track, a self-styled “Jackson Pollock jam”, is certainly atmospheric, closing the record with mantric massed vocals, lo-fi organ and an echoing percussive clatter that faintly recalls the sound of Dr John’s Gris-Gris.
But for the most part, Black Acid Soul is musically understated, stark and rooted in jazz: bass, piano or guitar, occasional drums and Munroe’s extraordinary voice, devoid of affectation, filled with ease and growling power. It’s all you need: whether she’s essaying an impossibly beautiful version of Tim Hardin’s It’ll Never Happen Again, performing producer Chris Seefried’s ballad Nobody’s Sweetheart or turning the Voices of East Harlem’s exuberant funk track Wanted Dead or Alive on its head – reworking it as a sparse, eerie ballad called Beware the Stranger – the results are utterly haunting.
Before she became Lady Blackbird, Munroe tried her hand at alt-rock and R&B: listening to Black Acid Soul, you’re struck by the sense of an artist who’s finally found her calling. It takes serious cojones to take on Nina Simone’s Blackbird, but her version is raw and sublime. Maybe the “acid” in the title makes perfect sense after all: these are songs and performances that burn deep into you.