I love live music. There’s the feeling of community, the sensory overload, the expectation of the unexpected… And one of the greatest gifts a band can give is a recording that captures those feelings, so you can take the live experience with you throughout your day. On the way to work. Walking down the street. Raking leaves. Raking more leaves. If you have a pair of headphones, all of these moments are just crowded, sweaty dance parties in disguise, and Black Girls’ new album Hell Dragon is a 9-song invitation to say “Fuck it!” and make those dance parties a reality.
Despite its being a studio album, Hell Dragon hits on all of the best parts of the live experience, starting right off the bat with that feeling of community. It’s appropriate that the album kicks off with the version of “Broadway” that Black Girls recorded with 5 members of Richmond jazz juggernauts and Worthless Junk label mates No BS! Brass Band for a split 7-inch the two groups released in July (the track got some extra guitars for this go-around), and the connections certainly don’t end there. Except for the closing one, all songs were tracked and mixed at Minimum Wage Recording, the home studio of No BS! drummer Lance Koehler, and with further No BS! contributions like Marcus Tenney’s smooth and inviting trumpet on “St. Simons” and Reggie Chapman’s perfectly placed and executed harmonica on “South Carolina,” as well as a number of appearances by former Back Girls member Harrison Colby, the album has a wonderful all-hands-on-deck feel, providing a snapshot of the band’s prominent place within the Richmond music scene.
The sensory overload and expectation of the unexpected that make live music so special are both there as well. My favorite thing about Hell Dragon may be how there’s so much in these nine songs to digest. From Gillihan’s loose, conversational improvisation before and after verses, to the many shaker, tambourine and synth tracks, to the call and response vocals provided by drummer Stephen Farris and the layering of Mike Bryant and Fletcher Babb’s intricate but always complementary guitar tracks with Jeff Knight’s momentum-building bass, Hell Dragon is an album that begs multiple listens, each one an opportunity to discover some carefully chosen detail that you may have missed on the previous run-through.
Add to that feeling of discovery the fact that few of these songs begin and end the same way — “Country Song” shifts gears for an epic-sounding ending, “South Carolina” breaks out into a hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ breakdown, “Miami” offers a tantalizing yet totally satisfying slow build, and there’s even a micro-cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” at the end of “Club Bangin” — making for a true edge-of-your-seat listening experience. In Hell Dragon, Black Girls have effectively bottled the formula that makes their live shows such a ridiculously good time, and I can’t recommend cracking open this bottle of self-proclaimed “snuff rock” highly enough.
Check out “Get Off” (the one track recorded with Bryan Walthall at Sound of Music Studios) below, and click here to snag the album from the label’s website. Better yet, come out tonight to the Camel for the album’s official release party, starting at 10 p.m, and snag your copy in person.
Black Girls — “Get Off“