Game Over?

West Side bluesman Cletus Black deals One More Card

For a decade or more, husky-voiced folk and blues singer-songwriter Cletus Black has been one of the area's less heralded but most reliable artists. Over that time, he's released nine albums and played countless shows. But now he's calling it quits. Sort of: He plans to keep performing, but says he won't release any more albums.

"I'm not retiring or anything — I'm too young a man," he says. "Economically, it gets to the point where it doesn't make any sense to keep putting out CDs. I figure if I stop writing, I'll stop recording and stop putting CDs out. That's the plan. I don't know if I can really stop, but I'm going to try. I have to clean myself out. I'm going to go through withdrawals, I'm sure."

The Bay Village bluesman, who says he "has a couple more CDs worth of good stuff in the can," has taken breaks from songwriting before. After establishing himself in the '80s, he took some time off before returning in 1996 with the retrospective Shades of Black. "I put that out and had no intention of doing this whole thing again," he says. "But it just sort of snowballed."

Black's final album, One More Card to Play, comes out this week and will be followed by a CD-release show at 8 p.m. Friday, June 11, at the Brothers Lounge (11607 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.com). The disc is another fine collection of sparse ballads punctuated by Black's gravel voice. With its humming cello, album opener "Hold on Tight" is fueled by Black's pleading "Don't let go/Oh no, no, no." It's as much a song about love as it is about finding inspiration and hanging on to it. Despite its preponderance of sad songs, Black insists One More Card isn't a breakup album.

"It's a mix of stuff," he says. "There are a couple of falling out of love and a couple of falling in love. The album fell together pretty quickly. It was a natural thing."

Tickets to the show are $5.

Speedbumps frontman Erik Urycki wrote all of the songs on his band's new album, The Moon Is Down, at the "boat house" -- an isolated four-bedroom home on the Cuyahoga River that the band rented a year and a half ago.

"It's a great place to be able to write and play music," he says. "Our basement has 20-foot ceilings because they used to store boats inside. We rehearse down there. It's a real comfortable spot."

After fine-tuning the songs, the band went to Nashville to record at the studio of Jars of Clay producer Mitch Dane.

"We played through a vintage Neve console," says Urycki. "I'm not a big gearhead, but this is the stuff they recorded the best albums back in the day with. Jack White tried to buy it off him. He recorded a song with Alicia Keys for the Bond movie, and after the recording was over, Jack White opened his checkbook and asked how much Mitch wanted for it. Mitch wouldn't give it to him. I'm glad he didn't."

The album's midtempo ballads share sounds with Wilco and Iron and Wine, punctuated by Urycki's distinctive soulful delivery. "I don't think I changed my voice as much as I changed how I sang," he says. "If you really believe in the words and the songs, that's where soul comes from. Soul doesn't have to be with timbre. It has to do with honesty. I think that came through. The studio was perfect to bring that out. There's not a song on this album that I don't believe in."

The group hosts a CD-release party at 8 p.m. Friday, June 11, at the Kent Stage (175 E. Main St., Kent, 330-677-5005, kentstage.org). Xela opens; tickets are $10.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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