Winds of Change?
Most of the songs on Black Happy, Conny Ochs’s newest record, are just voice and acoustic guitar. His music follows a long line of folk musicians from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Richard Thompson. Nowhere on that list are any German folk singers, let alone any German folk singers who sing in English. Conny Ochs is an anomaly — a German troubadour who vacillates between the softness of Nick Drake and the more aggressive side of Elliot Smith.
The album opens with “Exile,” a short song that introduces the listener to Ochs’s beautiful voice and fine musicianship. Each subsequent song is just as competent, yet there is something lacking. None of these songs truly grab you and beg to be listened to a second time. All the pieces to make a great record are here: wonderful musician, great recording and a great vibe. Even the album cover is cool, but the songs never live up to the promise.
Only one song, the gentle “Stable Chaos,” stands out as a song to share with your friends. This song offers a hummable melody and sticks in your mind. Ochs is joined by a female vocalist who shadows his vocals and adds a depth and texture that really makes this track shine. She is featured elsewhere on the record, but is never as good as she is on “Stable Chaos.”
The last quarter of the record falters as some of the songs seem like filler. That’s forgivable since it is tough to write 10 great songs, but it’s disappointing that the first half of the record doesn’t live up to the idea of what Ochs should be. The album closes with “Mouth,” an a cappella track with a lone tambourine and some harmonica interludes. The song feels forced. It’s obvious that Ochs is a fan of American music, but it is tough to take an intangible thing like “Americana” and translate it fully into German culture. Sonically, all the pieces are there, but something is missing. Perhaps there is a reason Hasselhoff is huge in Germany and not here.