Perhaps better known as Stephen Colbert’s backing band, The Black Belles are an all female rockabilly-goth quartet whose self-titled debut record comes courtesy of Jack White’s independent label Third Man Records.
Draped in black with ghostly pale skin, these modern day heretics carry with them a certain shroud of mystery. To read The Black Belles official bios only adds to their ambiguity. Shelby Lynne’s interests include secret societies, Russian tragedies and serial killers. Ruby Rogers loves comic books and was rumoured to be a practitioner of witchcraft. Prolonged exposure to Olivia Jean may cause side effects such as slurred speech and unusual changes in body temperature. Meanwhile, Tina NoGood (sweat name) spends her downtime making boys cry and slashing tires. However, what isn’t a mystery is the deserved buzz that surrounds The Black Belles nor their rockabilly sound given the band’s ties to Nashville.
Right from the opening track The Black Belles put their collective foot down on the effects pedal and never let up, reining in 11 tracks in 30 concise minutes. Immediately the influence of Jack White can be heard on Leave You With A Letter, a stripped-back high-energy rock song with a couple of mini lead guitar riffs thrown in for good measure. Following in kind is In A Cage, which like much of the record plays as assertive though not necessarily angry.
Wishing Well has future single written all over it. Guitar riffs have matured into proper solos and although the record is only 3 songs in (7 minutes) my neck is already starting to burn from aggressive nodding (then again I am wildly unfit). Actual lead single Honky Tonk Horror toys with your emotions, switching between a spoken vocal that sounds distant, like a lost soul down a well, and a raw rock vocal which finishes each line and declares in the chorus, ‘I’ve been a bad girl’!
Although the combination of fuzzy guitar, grunting synthesia and heavy drums bestows The Black Belles with a consistent feel, each song leaves its individual mark. Not Tonight does so by moving the guitar to the background in favour of the keys. The song has a funky gothic atmosphere due to what sounds like a contemporary church organ and the melody could easily be adapted to suit any future Castlevania games.
To summarise The Black Belles as a gang of angry chicks in a goth rock band is to dismiss them. If you’re after a female voice but need a break from pop princesses, softly-spoken singer/songwriters or emotive vocalists and their climatic anthems, then The Black Belles are for you. They screech, they bang, they bend, and the bottom line is they rock.