Though a disturbing fact regarding the late Alex Chilton’s lack of health insurance (which was picked up by A.V. Club, Huffington Post, and Rolling Stone last week) from Keith Spera’s brilliant Times-Picayune article on Chilton’s life in New Orleans has been making the rounds, part of me fears that a politically apropos angle like that diminishes part of the piece’s biographical significance. Particularly the fact that Chilton partook in a number of notable musical collaborations in the Crescent City during his final so-called reclusive years. Enter Cristina Black.
Black writes for Village Voice, Nylon, Dazed & Confused, and edits the entertainment section of Foam. She also recorded an entire album with Alex Chilton in her backing band last fall. Wait, what? You heard right: Black broke the news on Sunday (via her official site’s blog) that her new record, The Ditty Sessions, was recorded with guitarist Alex McMurray, keyboardist Brian Coogan, and the former Big Star/Box Tops frontman on the bass.
As Spera’s piece reported, Chilton remained in New Orleans’ Treme during Hurricane Katrina, and was eventually flown out of the flooded aftermath by helicopter. Black’s record draws inspiration from the same event: “I remember thinking if I just had something to hold on to, a stick or something, maybe I could pull myself up out of that mess,” she writes. “That metaphor became the first line and theme for ‘All I Want.’”
Are these the great Alex Chilton’s final studio recordings? Perhaps. Either way, it was hard to tell — while streaming previews on her MySpace — whether it was Black’s wonderful songs and voice or the prominent mix placement of Chilton’s bass performance here that made these recordings such a thrill to hear.