Ten years ago Jerry DeCicca, guitarist and vocalist for The Black Swans, was living in Albuquerque. Here he quietly managed Relapse Records, a short-lived UNM-area store sandwiched between McDonald’s and the Yale Blood Plasma donor center.
I spent many hours rifling through DeCicca’s outstanding, exceptionally priced vinyl selection. No matter how much money I tried to spend in hopes of keeping the faltering business alive, he insisted on giving me spontaneous discounts and piles of free stuff. Staff from the hipper-than-thou Bow Wow Records even stocked up on cheap deals, selling it back at their Nob Hill shop with a substantial markup. It bothered me, but DeCicca just laughed it off. That was my first clue—now fully affirmed by The Black Swans catalog—that his goal is spreading music and its passion. Period.
“I don’t know that I would’ve thought at age 36 I’d still be driving around the country in a van,” says DeCicca by phone from his home in Columbus, Ohio. That remark is not uncommon for many musicians, but for DeCicca it is not a declaration of fulfilling some adolescent rock-star dream.
Despite the death of founding member and violinist Noel Sayre in 2008 due to a swimming accident, the band carries on. In fact, DeCicca allows that it’s precisely why he still pursues The Black Swans. “Not that anyone needs another reminder that life is short ... . ” DeCicca trails off, hinting that loss is a reason to continue rather than stop. The band’s upcoming album Don’t Blame the Stars completes ideas left behind by Sayre. As admirable as this post-mortem collaboration is (and certainly a fine tribute to, and celebration of, a missing comrade) it seems that loss has always been central to The Black Swans.
Loss is not always breakups or tragedy, and neither is it always sorrowful. There’s loss in making decisions and moving forward—it means that something has to be let go or left behind. DeCicca demonstrates all of this from the moment you press play. He sings about sex with the frankness of a quick Saturday night hookup in the parking lot. He compares us all—and not quite as colorfully—to characters from the Sunday comics page. Songs are punctuated with his rooster crows and ape calls. His one-note baritone lacks range, but there’s something comforting in his voice because it merely is, with no attempt to be anything but. Damn a vocoder, full speed ahead.
A five-piece, this particular tour sees The Black Swans as a duo with DeCicca on acoustic guitar and the talented Tyler Evans (pictured above, in the center) on banjo, electric guitar and lap steel. But don’t expect grand folk ballads of triumph over adversity and the strength of “The People”—do expect to be quietly overwhelmed by stark, naked emotion and damn fine, if understated, picking.
The show comes with a performance by A Very Special Lie, an Albuquerque band self-described as “playing sweet/nasty songs about what we do that ain’t right.” With Stue Trory on guitar, Chris O on keys and Demarcus Sumter on drums, along with the amazing Billy Bellmont’s (Bellemah) always sweet and stirring vocals, this outfit is well worth a listen.