Black Lab | Unplugged (Black Lab World)


cd black-lab-unplugged_75Some artists’ acoustic re-imaginings come off as flat or repetitious, lazy efforts to release CDs without going through the efforts of writing and recording new material. Black Lab’s Unplugged most certainly does not fall into that category.


First, a disclaimer: I am absolutely in love with Paul Durham’s voice. And his music. And his lyrics. And, well, his band.

So it should come as no surprise that I’ve had Black Lab’s Unplugged on repeat since I got it. Some artists’ acoustic re-imaginings come off as flat or repetitious, lazy efforts to release CDs without going through the efforts of writing and recording new material. Unplugged most certainly does not fall into that category; rather, it stands alongside seminal efforts such as Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in blazing its own path of brilliance.

Unplugged is 18 songs, most of them rueful looks back at love that has ended. Beyond the three new offerings, the tracks are culled from the span of the Black Lab catalog—Your Body Above Me (1997), See the Sun (2005), Passion Leaves a Trace (2007), Give Us Sugar (2009), and Two Strangers (2010). The versions here are stripped down, aching, and full of heartbreak. Disc opener “Remember” is a regret-filled examination; simple piano accents the acoustic guitar, light drums, and whispery vocals. With its pert, plucky guitar strums, “Something You Don’t Know” reveals, “There’s a strange land hidden inside us.”

cd black-lab-unplugged_250The band’s singles from the 1997 Geffen debut here are the alt-rock “Wash It Away” and piano-driven “Time Ago.” The former works surprisingly well stripped down and the latter, with its gentle falsetto and searing desire, proves a perfect way to close Unplugged. Durham steps up the pace with “This Ship Goes Down Deep” as he sings “Find a way to live without me and I’ll come home.” The guitar is a bit more forceful with “Learn to Crawl,” hinting at Black Lab’s rockier side.

Hands down, the most gorgeous song on Unplugged is “This Night.” Originally released on Passion Leaves a Trace, it begins with a lone piano key beforeDurham’s voice kicks in with an unhurried line: “There are things I have done, there’s a place I have gone. There’s a beast and I let it run; now it’s running my way.” Also delivered at a leisurely pace are “Weightless,” “The Pain Is Gone,” “Mine Again,” and “Circus Lights,” all less desperate, indisputably beautiful, and more fragile than the originals.

The new tracks here are “Fall (Shadows and Blinds),” “Tomorrow,” and “Out Loud.” “Fall” is the more understated of the three, withDurhamobserving, “The quiet is louder than a roar, louder than the ocean.” A rocker at its core, “Tomorrow” hints at the future, not only of the song’s potentially upcoming full-throttle rendition but also of a better day: “I will sleep, I’ll sleep tomorrow, and I will dream big dreams tomorrow.” There’s a bit of a down-home feel to the final new one, “Out Loud,” in which Durham’s vocals are at their most whispery.

Unplugged is an album you’ll fall in love with, wanting to play it over and over. Download “Remember” for free and see for yourself. A | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Cary Brothers, The Frames, Arab Strap

If you haven’t already, check out Black Lab’s full discography; every song is amazing.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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