The Black Lillies
Those familiar with the background of Black Lillies frontman Cruz Contreras are often struck with a single question when the man opens his mouth to sing: 'Why, given the rich baritone that can range from languid to intense, from reverently hushed to brashly bombastic, did it take so long?'
Obviously, he's no stranger to music. He is the man who loaned out his initials to Robinella and the CCstringband, which flirted with national fame a few years ago with a hit ("Man Over") on CMT in 2003. Maybe it took a while for him to find his voice - not the literal one, the one that makes you think of Randy Travis or Dan Tyminski or even the great Ralph Stanley in his prime. We're talking about that other voice - the one steeped in regret, seasoned with pain and tempered in the fires of hard times.
Cruz almost gave it all up. After records on Sony and Dualtone, Robinella and the CCstringband split - figuratively and literally. Cruz lost his wife, his home, his way. It's a funny thing though, the way music takes hold of a man. He spent the summer of 2008 driving a truck, and by the end of that year had the skeleton of an album ready to go.
Whiskey Angel was born from the ashes of one career, and it made you forget there was ever anything for Cruz Contreras before The Black Lillies - the band that he brought together to record an entire album over the course of a weekend in his living room. With Whiskey Angel, The Black Lillies established themselves, and it didn't take long for them to make their mark on the national scene. Their sophomore album, 100 Miles of Wreckage, spent more than five months on the Americana radio Top 40 charts - four of them in the Top 20 and ending up on the AMA Top 100 of 2011. The band has been recognized by mainstream outlets - proving that a band with this much spirit can break through traditional industry boundaries to achieve success independently, without the constraints of a major label.
It isn't uncommon for listeners to say that The Black Lillies' music has taken hold of their soul. It's earthy and gritty and melancholy in a way old mountain music was a century ago, speaking of pain and love and revenge and revelry with such spirit, such genuine celebration and sorrow, that it seems to be an album carved out of the planks of a backwoods cabin abandoned during the Great Depression more than a thing recorded in a living room studio by one man.
100 Miles of Wreckage