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Cletus Black 

Black Ice (Nitewax)

You've gotta wonder what Cletus Black could have done in the late '60s, when the media were locally owned and disc jockeys had the power to break a garage band -- or at least provide it with a modest regional hit. Not that Black has much in common with those one- or two-hit wonders of the era, but it's hard to imagine a station not jumping on a radio-friendly song like "Let It Go," one of the best tracks on Black Ice, and giving it a few weeks of heavy rotation. But times have changed, and as talented a songwriter as Black may be, his music is relegated to getting airplay on the lower end of the dial.

Produced by local drummer Tommy Rich (of Donnie Iris & the Cruisers fame) and recorded at Cleveland's Closer Look studios, Black Ice is Black's fourth album since he ended his self-imposed exile from the recording business. It visits the same ground as his previous work: His strong compositions are influenced by blues, R&B, British Invasion, and especially rockabilly. Catchy melodies and Black's rough-hewn baritone are the grabbers here. In addition, Dave Morrison blows a mean harmonica on four of the tracks, Jennifer Lee bulks up five songs with judicious backing vocals, and Bill Lestock plays mandolin on the witty "He's Got a Harley." The lyrics, as always, are clever and mature -- the product of a fellow who has seen what life is like beyond the Flats and Gund Arena. Still, there's a definite sameness to all of Black's records, and he doesn't go out on too many limbs with Black Ice. But the guy is highly entertaining, and when he's in a groove, he's deserving of exposure beyond college radio.

More by Steve Byrne

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