‘Black Lillies’ frontman releases his first solo album, a mix of country-rock and Americana, with a psychedelic edge.
Cruz Contreras has quite a track record. With a career spanning twenty-five years and going back to when he was just fifteen years old, he initially established his reputation as co-founder of renowned touring bands such as Robinella and the CCstringband, and latterly The Black Lillies. Over the years, he’s had some notable milestones with both groups; including a performance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien; playing Nashville’s famed Opry over 40 times; and earning slots at New Orleans Jazz Fest, CMA Fest and Bonnaroo. However, back in 2020, looking for new challenges, Contreras put the Black Lillies on indefinite hiatus. Now he’s back, launching ‘Cosmico’, his first solo album.
‘Cosmico’ is an ambitious album. Nine tracks coming in at just under fifty minutes, and there’s a lot going on with these songs. The alternative-bluegrass, Americana and country elements that featured in Contreras’ earlier career are less obvious on ‘Cosmico’, with the album sometimes bringing to mind Sound & Fury-period Sturgill Simpson or even those LA-based purveyors of Western-noir, Lord Huron.
Album opener, ‘Flashing Light’, is a classic pop showcase for Contreras’ golden-warm voice that shows its versatility across the album from the smoothest croon as evidenced on this track, to the earthy country-rock-style growl of ‘Doin’ Time’, with its five minutes of snazzy keyboard chops and huge sounding production job. It’s worth mentioning that producers Ethan Ballinger (Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack) and Megan McCormick (Jenny Lewis, Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah), along with engineer Craig Alvin (Kasey Musgraves), as they all deserve a mention for creating such an impressive-sounding album.
Other standout tracks across an album of uniformly fine writing, include the nicely restrained rocker, ‘Let Somebody Love You’. At the other end of the scale, ‘Separate Minds’ is a lovely, reverb-drenched, dreamy crooner, while the cranked tremolo and stacked delays give the slow grind of ‘Call Me Crazy’ creates a suitably unhinged vibe. All in all, it’s a great-sounding album.
From this outing, it’s hard to work out why Contreras isn’t already a bigger star in the contemporary country/Americana firmament. He’s a very accomplished musician and songwriter, an engaging performer and he has a voice that can easily hang with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, et al. With ‘Cosmico’, Contreras is releasing a contemporary-sounding album that properly showcases his talent, while shining the spotlight on him as a solo artist, rather than as a frontman for a band. So maybe this is his time… and no one can say he hasn’t paid his dues.