This year has been rich in music that’s emerged from the pandemic to offer catharsis and healing, from the likes of Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra, Allison Russell, Arlo Parks, Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, the War on Drugs, Yasmin Williams, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Mdou Moctar, Adia Victoria, Shungudzo and Weather Station. Amid that estimable company, West Hollywood-based artist Lady Blackbird (ladyblackbird.com) stands tall with her elegant debut album, “Black Acid Soul.”
“It almost felt like going back home,” she recalled while discussing the album the morning after a sit-down interview and brief performance at the Grammy Museum.
“I just wanted to make a classic, timeless piece the best way I could. But there were no rules. We were open to anything. It’s a feeling, at the end of the day, you know? It’s a vibe.” Laughing while describing how producer/arranger/guitarist Chris Seefried started hashtagging “#blackacidsoul” to convey the fusion they were creating in the studio, she said, “It’s our own little subgenre.”
Resisting definition — jazz and psychedelic soul are equally applicable — “Black Acid Soul” represents a departure from previous rock, R&B and gospel projects the vocalist has done under her own name, Marley Munroe.
Aside from a few originals she composed with Seefried, “Black Acid Soul” is a stunning showcase for her creative interpretations of tunes by the likes of Reuben Bell, Sam Cooke, the James Gang, Nina Simone and Irma Thomas. Munroe says she tried performing Simone’s daunting “Blackbird” at a gig years ago and “it just didn’t sit where I knew it could sit, you know? It’s such a moment, that song, and it was too deep for that moment.”
But “Blackbird” was the first song that leaped to mind when Seefried approached her about a collaboration that would go back to basics with a very stripped-down sound built around the textures and quicksilver dynamics of her contralto, so they made a quick vocal demo that “started the story,” as she puts it, of what became “Black Acid Soul.”
“Unlike the other songs on the recording, when we went in live and played all together, for ‘Blackbird’ we used the demo vocal recording and they played around me, which was not the easiest thing in the world to do because that song is very free. There is no beat,” Munroe said with a husky laugh.
“You come in when you want to come in. The whole process of how this album was, all the way down to recording live like that, was new for me. It was real. I loved every part of it. …
“When Chris sat me down to talk about pulling everything back, I was trying to be a rock star (laughs). I didn’t realize that stripping everything away — maybe I didn’t think I could do it. Because I love and appreciate all styles and genres of music and all sorts of artists. I have sung it all, from soul to gospel to blues to R&B to rock, and I’ve enjoyed singing it all. I’ve pulled from all of those genres to create what I have for myself.”
According to Munroe, it was while playing back “Blackbird” in the studio that someone said something about “the lady” and Seefried responded with “Lady Blackbird.” Munroe embraced the name as “another very natural, organic thing that happened” during the recording process.
“I’m glad it did because it did separate (projects), and this felt like such a rebirt,” she said.
“Black Acid Soul” doesn’t unveil a personal narrative like, say, Russell’s “Outside Child,” but it too reaches moments of transcendence achieved after a lengthy journey.
The intimate exchanges between Munroe, Seefried, Miles Davis pianist Deron Johnson, bassist Jonathan Flaugher and drummer Jimmy Paxson resonate powerfully in a time of reckoning and reflection when people are craving connection — perhaps most notably during the sublimely meditative “Fix It,” written by Munroe and Seefried to the melody of late jazz great Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece,” and a ravishing take on Tim Hardin’s “It Will Never Happen Again” that almost didn’t happen.
“It wasn’t really striking me at the beginning. I thought, ‘I don’t know what I would do with this.’ Chris really pushed that and said, ‘Listen a little harder.’ I did, and let me tell you, that’s one of my favorites to perform,” Munroe recounted. “It’s funny how things change when you listen a little deeper.”
BBC DJ Gilles Peterson has crowned her as “the Grace Jones of jazz,” a deserved accolade widely quoted but less frequently explored. Munroe grew up singing “at fairs and churches and weddings and funerals” in Farmington, New Mexico. (“Where do you sing in a small town like that?” she said with a laugh. “There’s nothing there!”)
By 12, she was signed to a Christian label out of Nashville. Munroe said nothing became of that on her own, but she did get to sing with TobyMac, a member of DC Talk. Later on, she was signed briefly to Epic Records and basically had an album complete and released a single, ‘Boomerang,’” but the label made a “massive cut” to its artist roster before that album could be released.
Now, with the birth and release of “Black Acid Soul,” she feels like she can “finally exhale.” Munroe and Seefried followed a recent sit-down interview at the Grammy Museum with a six-song performance with the full band; Dec. 14, they’ll give “pretty much a live presentation” of “Black Acid Soul” at Zebulon in Silver Lake.
“As many let-downs and work and many years that I’ve been doing this and it not quite coming to fruition all the way,” she said, “for me, it was all worth this moment and how lovely it has all come together.”
Lady Blackbird with a full band
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14
WHERE: Zebulon, 2478 Fletcher Drive, Silver Lake
INFO: 323-663-6927, zebulon.la