Daniel Lanois ‘Black Dub’ Album Review

Daniel Lanois’s new record  Black Dub is a powerful work of collaboration with some terrific musicians, among them the wonderful young singer Trixie Whitley, the daughter of the late great Chris Whitley. The music is spare, shimmering, and memorable, highlighted by the virtuosic drumming of Brian Blade, and the noted bass player Daryl Johnson. Lanois contributes both the songwriting and some excellent guitar work.

Lanois’s first solo work back in 1989 was a somewhat neglected masterpiece called Acadie, and featured the influence and presence of Brian Eno. Acadie ranks for me among the top Canadian recordings ever made. Lanois went on to produce the Bob Dylan resurrection album entitled Oh Mercy, as well albums by U2 and Peter Gabriel. Just a month or so ago Lanois produced the new Neil Young album Le Noise. Now he has confounded both his admirers and his critics by releasing an entirely new project in Black Dub that started with the remarkable voice of Trixie Whitley.

“She came up in a house that had a lot of the right music playing, so she has a great education and, as you can hear, a great talent,”Lanois says. “I was already playing with Brian Blade and I thought she was a powerhouse and there was something there that was special, so I decided to record a couple of songs just to see how it would go. And it seemed to go well so we just kept going and finished an album . . .

“There’s something going on there and there hasn’t been a lot of manipulation from offices. It’s quite a pure form. We made the record we wanted to make.”

The sound is unmistakably Lanois: elegant and restrained guitar set in an atmosphere of deep emotion and mystery, supported by visceral bass playing and soulful drum work. With the new element of Trixie’s stunning voice, Lanois’ music rises to a new level, one that hits the listener forcefully. These songs seem to emanate from the deepest part of the soul, making almost every other piece of music out there superficial, commercial and tedious. Strong stuff.

Standout tracks: “I’d Rather Go Blind”, the very spiritual “Surely”, and the howl wrested from fury that is “Last Time”.

Whether this is a permanent group for Lanois remains to be seen. What is not in question, though, is the star power of Trixie Whitley.