It’d be easy to cynically shrug off The Black Belles, fluffed as they’ve been by nearly two years of hype and groomed by Jack White’s Third Man Records and a stellar goth stylist with a love of wide-brimmed hats. Back in June, White even scored the Nashville-based outfit a shot at the “Colbert bump” with a gig as Stephen Colbert’s backup band for a couple of songs, released on a limited-edition EP — pressed in red, white, and blue vinyl, naturally.
The bios of the band — Ruby Rogers (bass), Shelby Lynne (drums), Lil’ Boo (synth), and Olivia Jean (vocals, guitar, organ) — are even a little too perfect. (“Kicked out of Girl Scouts for poisoning cookies. Allegedly.”)
It might seem like an elaborate setup to a joke, but The Black Belles deliver. They play compulsively listenable ’60s garage rock draped in black lace and a sneer. Whatever they don’t offer in originality, they make up for in commitment. They’re on top of this thing. Olivia Jean’s organ lines and muscular voice and Lil’ Boo’s smooth synth pin down the ragged edges. On “Honky Tonk Horror”, Olivia Jean taunts the microphone, her voice jumping from within licking distance all the way to the back of the room like a caged animal pacing. Shelby Lynne (for real?) chases the knuckle-popping anxiety of “Breathing Down My Neck” with her galloped drumming.
Who they all are and where they all came from is carefully veiled, but it’s hard resisting the urge for more Black Belles. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once White steps aside and they’re left to manage the spotlight more on their own. Will they shrink under their hats or bewitch us even more?
Essential Tracks: “Honky Tonk Horror”, “Wishing Well”, and “Hey Velda”