Clint Black's first album in four years finds his artistic reach expanding. In addition to penning the dozen tracks, Black served as producer for his hand-picked band and recorded for his own new label. With aesthetic and commercial controls both in hand, Black has turned out a surprisingly sophisticated collection of ballads and funk-inflected mid-tempo numbers.
Entering his forties with a wife and child, Black contemplates the changing priorities of middle-age ("Spend My Time") as well as his own human frailties ("We All Fall Down"). The latter sports a soulful mix of organ, piano harmonica, banjo and John Robinson's terrific staccato second-line drumming; the extended instrumental coda is especially fine. Robinson's drumming returns to drive the paranoid dot-com futurism of "Haywire," and Black maintains a bluesy mid-tempo punch with "Everything I Need" and "The Boogie Man."
The ballads are a more mixed lot. A few make original, personal turns, like the introspective title track and the theatrical "A Lover's Clown." Others slip into Nashville-bland melodies and lyrics.
It's a treat to hear Black integrating jazz, blues and funk flavors so effortlessly into his mid-tempo songs and to discover how richly his voice fits a variety of moods and tones. His criticism of major label conventions and his cash on the barrelhead are brave, confident moves; whether or not he finds his way back to the charts, there's clearly a rich artistic future ahead.