You've gotta wonder what Cletus Black could have done in the late '60s, when the media were locally owned and disc jockeys had the power to break a garage band -- or at least provide it with a modest regional hit. Not that Black has much in common with those one- or two-hit wonders of the era, but it's hard to imagine a station not jumping on a radio-friendly song like "Let It Go," one of the best tracks on Black Ice, and giving it a few weeks of heavy rotation. But times have changed, and as talented a songwriter as Black may be, his music is relegated to getting airplay on the lower end of the dial.
Produced by local drummer Tommy Rich (of Donnie Iris & the Cruisers fame) and recorded at Cleveland's Closer Look studios, Black Ice is Black's fourth album since he ended his self-imposed exile from the recording business. It visits the same ground as his previous work: His strong compositions are influenced by blues, R&B, British Invasion, and especially rockabilly. Catchy melodies and Black's rough-hewn baritone are the grabbers here. In addition, Dave Morrison blows a mean harmonica on four of the tracks, Jennifer Lee bulks up five songs with judicious backing vocals, and Bill Lestock plays mandolin on the witty "He's Got a Harley." The lyrics, as always, are clever and mature -- the product of a fellow who has seen what life is like beyond the Flats and Gund Arena. Still, there's a definite sameness to all of Black's records, and he doesn't go out on too many limbs with Black Ice. But the guy is highly entertaining, and when he's in a groove, he's deserving of exposure beyond college radio.