Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

New Ground

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Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise is essentially a bar band, distinguished quite a bit from innumerable similar acts by their lead singer. Bradley sings with an earnest slur that has more authentic echoes of blues and R&B than most such frontmen, landing in a sort of netherland twixt Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Ted Hawkins at times. His songs are earnest too, exuding a hard-won optimism and working-man's head-down forbearance. The production takes some unusual chances, with synthesizers that manage to assert themselves not as gratuitous concessions to modernity, but as reasonably effective counterpoints to the songs' coping-with-urban-tribulations vibe. "Profile" puts some funky hard backbeat and non-rap electronics to good use, and "See Her" would be a logical choice to push as a single with its upbeat soul groove. "Born in America" is the sort of non-ironic patriotism that you could expect to be hearing a lot of in the period immediately following late 2001, though it was actually written in 1979 on the first day after American hostages were taken in Iran. New Ground is nothing special, and not very new ground, but it's a respectable maximization of what this journeyman band has to offer.

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