In these uncertain times a little bit of truth goes a long way. On their debut album, Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts take listeners along on a soul-searching journey across Americana’s highways and byways in search of the truth, told through the eyes of a road-worn traveler who has experienced life’s uncertainties and lived to tell the tale.
In Luther Black’s persona, singer-songwriter-producer Rick Wagner writes honest, plainspoken songs that come from the heart with a nod towards Outlaw Country’s founders Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Kris. But while country music’s traditional themes of lonesomeness, restlessness, heartache and, of course, drinking are evident throughout, this is by no means a traditional country act. Like Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings and other contemporary Outlaw Country artists, Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts proudly wear their rock and roll influence on their sleeve while at the same time showing a strong affinity for country and folk music. Soaring guitars and string arrangements pop up just as surely as do the twang of a baritone guitar or dobro while images of devils, ghosts, country roads and lost highways are depicted in the raspy voiced singer’s tale of survival in an upside down world.
“When I started out playing bass in bands as a teenager I thought it was my ticket out of my small, coal mining hometown in Pennsylvania,” says Wagner. “My whole world revolved around Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Circus and Creem magazine. Once I discovered punk rock I was off to New York City.” Ending up in Greenwich Village, he fell into the bohemian lifestyle and ensconced in the music of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. “My influences are all over the map and I approach songwriting with a completely open mind. I really believe songs are in the ether and I feel really fortunate whenever one lands on me. When that happens I just let the song angels take me to wherever they want to go.“
Rick Wagner’s debut with Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts comes after many years of working as a sideman, session player, producer and touring musician. His long list of recording and touring credits includes The dB’s, Silos, Paul Collins, Emily Duff, and Storytown. His journey from a Pennsylvania coal town to Greenwich Village to the New Jersey suburbs has had more than a few ups and downs, but he never stopped plugging away and was always there to answer the call whenever someone needed a bass player. “I had the good fortune to play bass for a lot of really great songwriters and little by little that rubbed off on me to the point where I said now it’s my turn.”
From the reflective opening track “59” to the elegant folk-pop of “World Won’t Wait” to down and dirty blues rockers like “Trouble” and “Proof” to the heartland rock of “Backroads” a mystical mood runs throughout as the contemplative singer bares his soul and confesses his sins. Sometimes the truth hurts.