When The Black Swans began recording Don’t Blame The Stars three years ago, the record was intended as an agnostic re-imagining of Willie Nelson’s faith-fueled 1971 album Yesterday’s Wine, with allegiance to God replaced by allegiance to personal relationships. The band’s refusal to find higher meaning in the world was soon tested by the drowning-related death of violinist Noel Sayre. The tragedy seems to have only reaffirmed the album’s original thesis, with resulting songs that dwell on friendship, life’s unpredictability, and finding solace in music. Jerry DeCicca (whose stock has been on the rise since his work with Will Oldham last year) has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff, a flat-toned, fragile croon that’s deep, smooth, and achingly sad. The music, recorded live in a Columbus garage, is more or less standard, no-frills folk-rock, with Sayre’s strings occasionally added posthumously. “Joe Tex,” a tribute to the late, great R&B star, is the record’s catchiest and liveliest track, highlighting what the band can do when it’s having fun. While The Black Swans’ sound is well suited for regretful laments about antidepressants and anxiety, the band is at its best when it lightens up a bit. Given the background of Don’t Blame The Stars, perhaps that’s too tall an order.
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