The Bells’ Toll on Rock & Roll

Posted October 24, 2007 in Music

 Musically we lean toward the heavy, always have and probably always will, which is why Led Zeppelin trumps the Beatles in our record-collecting obsession and the deep-Sabbath grunge sound forever satisfies. Having never experienced Seattle firsthand, however, we often live vicariously through songs and acquaintances who, at one time or another, viewed its Space Needle skyline gleaming green aboard a ferry. Justin Black, of IE-based band Justin Black & the Light, once described the Emerald City in this way and, being familiar with several cards of his misguided tarot, we began associating him with both our dream metropolis un-traveled and Pearl Jam’s “Indifference.”  

Since we also tend to blur musical images with reality, we chose to share the following fictional paragraphs—the point where Eddie Vedder’s lyrics meet Black’s life. See, to understand the Light’s new EP Miracle, it first becomes necessary to understand the miracle of Black. A totally normal CD review is just beyond the horizon, making this column one-part fiction and three-parts not. 

Standing aboard the good ship Seattle, one man watches the tree-triumphant isle of loverock recede into dusk. Perpetually confronted with survival, he comes for answers. Producing a tapered candle from a jean pocket, he stretches his arm straight out, palm clenched against the sea. One-handedly patting down his pockets, he then fruitlessly searches for a light. 

Suddenly, huge waves of fiery embers emerge from the wick, overwhelming the damp air and once again challenging his resilience. Something seems to ask, “Do you have the will to live, to let this candle burn? How much difference does it make?” But tightening his grasp, he withstands the heated pain, indifferent to burning sensations. He does not change direction, or his mind. Thankfully the wounds of fire are not in vain; the storm gentles into a calm flame, flickering in the wind.

So, okay, Black is no magic man. Obviously he cannot summon fire from air but, much like the semi-autobiographical character in this embellished tale, he has endured hellish flames—three times meeting the reaper and standing against the world’s supposed graces. He first captured our souls’ attention with 2006’s New Revolution and we continue to praise the music, only imagining how much difference it made when Black found the Light.

Here’s his real story, minus the special effects: Picking up the drums at a young age, Black’s formative years were spent as a touring skinsman with the acclaimed Los Angeles punk outfit, Amen. Eventually, dark clouds rolled in, beginning with a collapsed lung that propelled him to Seattle and, fatefully, guitar. 

There, eternally dreary weather was never the main problem. While pursuing musical and graphic/interior design careers, thyroid cancer nearly silenced Black’s dreams—doctors warned he might never again sing. But he survived, returning to rock & roll and Riverside. He found the Light in 2005, after releasing A Million Reasons, a solo album or a one-man-show plate of crow (of sorts). 

Wearing courage on a silver chain and living at least nine lives, Black never dropped the candle. And perhaps, just like our fictional story, his story is best written in song. Half self-reflection, half call-for-action, Miracle examines negativity as the plague of man, recognizing five keys to life: self-confidence, love-actualized, optimism, unity and revolution. 

Religious undertones abound. 

Some might even christen Miracle a quick 20 minutes of revelation, akin to an abridged Left Behind rock opera, if such a thing existed. Black’s lyrics are now sun-drenched, besieged by political and spiritual cries for salvation that begins from within, bringing us to “The Key.” Whether personal or universal faith is in order, it names self-confidence the secret to the “stairway,” with James Alcantara’s classically-trained keys reverberating glockenspiel-style throughout.

Let’s break down four more miracles. 

Love lights up all of our lives, why “Feel Your Love” next begs comparisons to Chris Cornell, a main influence, and just begs period for the miracle of actualization. Dan Hill’s rhythmic vibrancy a la John Bonham, coupled with Black’s yearning sincerity, also gives this romantically-inclined track 1970’s virtuosity. 

“Miracle” proves California dreamin’ more than a fool’s pastime, spinning like a lyrical prayer and piecing heavenly instrumentation with personal testimony. Immediately uplifting it channels pop sensibility while remaining rock-worthy, characteristic of the Light’s modern classic catalogue.

Beginning with Who-like gusto, media soundbytes pulse through monster guitar in “Calling on You,” widely summoning peace and unity, or else. Fast-paced realism initiates a G’NR “Civil War” vibe via military-esque drum rolls and bass lines. “Weight of the World,” another political thumbs-down carrying evident “No Quarter” stimulus, warns of Armageddon, blaming us all. Of course, there is still time to save ourselves (and the climate in crisis). If we’ve learned anything, it’s that JBATL fancy a new revolution today.

We must digress. 

Though hyped heshers no longer rule the northwestern scene (we’ve heard that, gasp, grunge is dead), Miracle transports us to a time when loverock was an underground tongue and the Jam was rarely used on toast. Meanwhile listening to “Indifference” generates reason enough to swallow Black’s optimism whole. 

To hear Black sing is to hear survival rapping at his throat and, praise the music, that grunge tinge we crave. If a musical or worldly revolution is his cause, it will undoubtedly be met with indifferent verve, not to be surpassed by the hottest flame, strongest punch or brightest ray. We believe it. You would, too, after venturing outta the blue and into the black. 

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