Black Merda – Black Merda

Black merda

Usually linked in with the brief explosion of “black rock” bands that followed Jimi Hendrix in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Black Merda’s formula was a good bit more complicated than most, and their debut album blends elements of hard rock, blues, soul, folk, and embryonic funk with a tough and uncompromising political consciousness that makes the disc at once a product of its time and not quite like anything else around back in the day. The guitar work from Anthony Hawkins and Charles Hawkins is tough and organic, whether they’re stretching out on extended blues jams such as “Over and Over” and “Windsong” or cutting some hard R&B-accented rock on “Cynthy-Ruth” and “Prophet.” Bassist Vessee L. Veasy (who also contributes most of the lead vocals) and percussionist Tyrone Hite generate a lean but effective groove throughout as they jump from the streetwise soul of “Reality” to the acoustic meditation of “Think of Me.” But as good as the music is on this album (and despite bland production from someone named Swan, most of it is very good indeed), what really sets it apart is the dark vibe reflected in the minor-key tenor of the melodies and the bitter realities of the lyrics. Grinding poverty, racism, political and social inequality, the ongoing nightmare of Vietnam, the growing schism between youth culture and the establishment, and the absence of any easy answers to the dilemmas of a nation spinning out of control dominate songs such as “Reality,” “Ashamed,” and “That’s the Way It Goes,” and the grim but wholly appropriate fable of “I Don’t Want to Die” ends this album as if a lid were being slammed shut on a coffin. Black Merda anticipates the grim consciousness-raising session of Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which wouldn’t arrive in stores until a year after this album, and if it isn’t the stark masterpiece that Sly’s album was, it’s good enough that this group deserves to be regarded as much more than a footnote in the black music scene of the early ’70s.

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