Jeff Black 

Jeff Black is no genius songwriter, but his weathered voice and gospel fervor shiver with the urgency of troubadours such as Bruce Springsteen or Townes Van Zandt. As classically Americana as Black's tunes are, though, he still has a fresh, bare-knuckled sound, tailored to carry listeners from subject to blue-collar subject. Black can shoot the blues about life as an Irish-descended, Missouri-born working man and, in the next song, bust the chops of corporate America with an almost academic uppercut. It's no wonder that Black, who grew up north of Kansas City, has performed with the likes of John Prine and Wilco. Nor is it surprising that each of his four gritty albums has built on the rough-edged passion of the last.

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