Though lumped into the ever-expanding "alt-country" movement, this Chicago trio has more in common with the Cramps, X and Tom Waits (the band's personal hero) than any twangin' retro pickers. With songs full of sultry, lolling rhythms and lyrics of despair and resignation, the Blacks' sophomore release, Just Like Home (Bloodshot Records), plays equally well on the sound system of a hipster lounge as on the hot, unforgiving blacktop of an Arizona highway. Group namesakes (and former romantic partners) Danny and Gina Black share vocal duties, and handle guitar and stand-up bowed bass, respectively, while new drummer Dan Leali thumps skins.
Blond-haired Gina -- all six feet of her dolled up in tight dresses and fishnet stockings -- may be the band's focal point on stage, but it's tracks like "Call" and the fabulous "Goin' Out West" (with lines like "Tony Franciosa used to date my mom," referring to the B-movie actor, and the matter-of-fact "I look good without a shirt on") that carry the most energy and impact. Her voice compellingly suits the material, at times unintentionally sounding like a more polished version of Madeline Kahn's ennui-laced hooker in Blazing Saddles. Danny is subtler and more plaintive -- before building to worthy hard-rock climaxes -- on the throbbing "To a Sucker" and the stride-heavy "Foggy Minded Breakdown."
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With an EP in the can and a full-length set slated for release next spring, the Blacks may soon be busy enough for Danny and Gina to quit their gigs as doorman and waitress in Chicago. We can only hope.