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Austin Collins - Roses are Black

by Keith Howerton

Austin Collins and the RainbirdsThe man with one of the most distinctive and unique voices in all of Americana music has truly taken his art to the next level with his new release Roses are Black. Austin Collins has proven on this sophomore record that he is one of the most talented songwriters and performers in Texas and Americana music. The record is, in a word … fantastic.

It is not just Collins' voice that brings the project to the front of the pack, but the production and arrangements as well. The record is not quite country, not quite rock, not quite alternative, not quite Americana but all of those sounds and styles all mixed in a stew of pleasure to the listener. If there were another well-known contemporary band to compare with (which would be unfair) it would be Son Volt. However, Roses are Black takes on a life of its own from the first note to the final cymbal crash that is pure magic. The project is proof that Austin is one of the most under-rated songwriters and musicians in Texas.

One of the best aspects of the record is in the production value. It is a blend of modern and older techniques that obviously took care and time to make just right. However, the record is not over-produced or sterile like many mainstream records of today. In fact, in parts it is just plain dirty and gritty at just the right times for a perfect effect. The use of left and right channel switching is superb with vocals being placed behind the instruments on one side and out in front on the other. Instruments are also highlighted via the use of perfect left and right channel switching and blends.

The effect of all that care in production is awesome. Another special aspect of the record is the use of “old 70s rock” style distortion in the electric guitars. In parts, the guitars are reminiscent of a live Neil Young and Crazy Horse record. Will Johnson produced the record and his skill is obvious in many of the technical aspects of how the songs flow. The reality is that Roses are Black is how all records should be made. It comes out with a not too clean, not too dirty, but just right production that makes the lyrics and melodies work together in perfect unison.

Eleven of the twelve songs were penned by Collins with two of them being co-writes with Daniel Makins. Notable tracks on the record are “11 Months,” “Witching Hour,” “Out Loud,” “Can’t Say This at Home,” “8 Dollar Thrills,” and the title track “Roses are Black.” The only song on the record that can be described as country is “Unapology.” If there is any criticism of the record it would be that “Unapology” does not really fit the rest of the record. It s a great country song but is sort of out of place with the others songs and changes the vibe halfway through. In all there are twelve great songs on the project that Collins' current fans and new fans will most certainly find delightful.

Austin Collins is the Texas Jackson Browne. His songwriting and voice come together in the same way that Jackson’s did to define 70's rock. It is almost certain that Austin will make his mark in much the same way.

Roses are Black could very well be the best record of 2008. It's a must have for any serious music fan.

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