The Black Swans
Don’t Blame the Stars

On first blush, the profuse references to vintage soul singers on the Black Swans’ new album — shout-outs go to everyone from Percy Mayfield and Sam Cooke to Arthur Alexander and Aretha Franklin — might seem excessive. It’s almost as if, by mere dint of association, frontman Jerry DeCicca is claiming kinship with performers whose music his band’s shambling indie-rock scarcely resembles. Even the eponymous tribute “Joe Tex” smacks less of the taut funk of the late singer’s 1972 smash “I Gotcha” than of the loping pastoralism of ’70s British pub-rockers Brinsley Schwarz. That said, DeCicca’s commitment to mapping life’s more jagged grains — the one thing he does share with his R&B predecessors — is exactly what buoys this wistful, moving record.

Take, for example, the pensive title track, a waltz-time dirge in which DeCicca mourns the seemingly indiscriminate ravages of disease and natural disasters. Brooding over the question of whether human beings share any responsibility for such calamities, he warns, “Don’t blame the stars for what we can fix with our hands.” Elsewhere, he tells of how he weaned himself off a psychiatric medication, while in the droll “I Forgot to Change the Windshield Wipers in My Mind,” he laments his persistent failure to maintain a healthy mental outlook.

The death of Black Swans co-founder Noel Sayre, an expressive violinist, both casts a pall over and lends poignancy to the proceedings. Sayre’s lyrical bow strokes add ruminative texture and resonance to many of the record’s arrangements, several of which recall the Gypsy-inflected chamber pop of Tin Hat Trio.

— Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks:

“Joe Tex,” “I Forgot to Change the Windshield Wipers in My Mind”