I’ve never paid much attention to Dave Stewart’s non-Eurythmic work, but maybe I should. The Blackbird Diaries is Stewart’s first album of original material in 13 years and there’s a good chance that it will be overshadowed by another release he is involved in…Super Heavy, the “supergroup” featuring Stewart, Mick Jagger, Joss Stone and Damian Marley that is due out in a week or two.
As Stewart recounts in his extensive liner notes, The Blackbird Diaries was recorded in five days in Nashville with producer John McBride…husband of Martina McBride. Dave himself describes the resulting music as, “a little Dylanesque meets Leonard Cohen meets Tom Petty meets Lou Reed Meets Johnny Cash”. Add The Rolling Stones in there and you’ve got a pretty accurate idea of what’s happening here.
Stewart is assisted by a handful of Nashville veterans including drummer Chad Cromwell (Neil Young), pedal steel player Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt) and guitarist Tom Bukovac (Faith Hill & Sheryl Crow). A few female guest vocalists show up…Stevie Nicks, Colbie Caillat and The Secret Sisters.
The album kicks off with a Stonsey-rocker called So Long Ago. It’s a tribute to bluesmen like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Mississippi John Hurt who are all name-checked in the song, as are The Rolling Stones. Backing singer Judith Hill tosses in a few woo-woos for added effect and the slide guitar sounds like something out of Sticky Fingers. Not a bad way to start.
Beast Called Fame tells the story of a couple becoming famous…perhaps a nod to Annie Lennox. Musically it retains that live-in-the-studio vibe established on the opening track. This time it’s more Tom Petty meets Dylan and features another blistering slide guitar solo. Dylan seems to be poking his head in again on Magic In The Blues (actually Stewart co-wrote Worth The Waiting For, a song that shows up later in the album, with Dylan, but of course that one doesn’t sound so Dylanesque). The classic rock feel continues with an Allman Bros. Band-style piano line and Blood On The Tacks style lyrics.
All Messed Up features Martina McBride on a piano-driven ballad. It’s OK, but a tad melodramatic. It made me think of Bonnie Tyler. Stevie Baby is an unabashed ode to Stevie Nicks, while the next track, Cheaper Than Free, features Stevie herself. The two songs back-to-back sound a bit corny and just a bit creepy as well. They are the only missteps on an otherwise excellent set of songs.
Stewart bounces back with the wonderful storytelling of The Gypsy Girl and One Way Ticket To The Moon, which, with its twangy guitar and accordion, sounds like it could have been recorded with Calexico. It’s another highlight.
Colbie Caillat’s appearance on Bulletproof Vest turns out better than Stevie’s turn earlier. It’s a country-tinged piano ballad that the two singers take on with ease. Worth The Waiting For, the tune co-written with Dylan is one of the less interesting songs here, but the gospel-ish BVs help out.
The Well takes us back to the desert and features some of Stewart’s better lyrics. After the country ballad of Country Wine, Dave closes with a rousing rocker. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head features a chucky guitar riff and drops in references to Sweet Jane and Bryan Ferry.
It sounds like everyone involved had a good time making this record and that vibe rubs off when listening to it.
Click here to listen to One Way Ticket To The Moon from The Blackbird Diaries: