For my money, the best singer-songwriters are ones whose music is simple and unaffected, with clear vocal tones, minds with clear eyes, and personalities with clear hearts.
That makes Athens, GA, singer-songwriter Madeline Adams’ Black Velvet a boon to these ears. Adams’ voice sounds fresh and girlish on this record, like a young Carole King or Joni Mitchell. Adams is young but knowing, witty, and not a little maudlin. You can sense it on the “Where did I go wrong?” refrain of “Dead Moon”, the record’s lead track. But “Hurry Up Pronto” follows, a much more upbeat romp, and “Red Light Bulb”, along with final track “Dollar Beer”, throws crescendoing psychedelia into the mix.
Even before adulthood, it was fairly obvious that Adams was emotionally and musically mature beyond her years, raising herself on a steady musical diet of her hometown’s 80’s and 90’s indie staples. Adams’ music displays hallmarks of Southern culture, some sweet and some dark, similar to Vic Chesnutt. On the All Music Blog, Adams described Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh Comely” as “the song that made me want to write. It was like a freaking lightning bolt when I first heard it in high school.”
Country and roots music play a role in the sonic DNA of Black Velvet as well, with the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson leaving impressions here. Cash gets a shout-out on Black Velvet with a track, more an ode almost Greek in its intense hero tribute, simply titled “Johnny Cash”. Its opening line, “If Johnny Cash is up in heaven/then he’s bored to death and probably wondering/where the hell the jukebox is/and he misses his guitar,” is sad and funny, like most of Adams’ lyrics. The unspecified dive bar scene she sets the rest of the song in mirrors where she tended bar in Athens, where there’s a picture of the late Cash and June Carter Cash in the men’s and women’s restrooms.
Adams’ work is personal. You can tell that by her sometimes-quavering voice, the passion she puts into her music. But the emotion is only intimated, not intimate. You can tell she’s talking about something personal, but Adams only gives you fragments to work with. You can get close but not too close. That much will do for this burgeoning indie talent.