When legendary guitar god Eric Clapton dubs a young artist as “phenomenal” you take notice. And this is certainly the case with immensely talented singer-songwriter Blake Mills. Indeed, this troubadour possesses almost a preternatural ability, one that he discovered when he first picked up a guitar at the age of ten.
On Thursday night, the musician headlined a performance the iconic El Rey Theatre where he then proceeded to bring down the house. As audience members squeezed and strained to get a glimpse of the reclusive genius, Mills treated his fans to signature blend of blues, folk, soul and rock. Refusing to conform to a single genre, this guitar virtuoso takes the best from all of his influences and shakes them up into the most delicious of musical cocktails.
The artist is out in support of his long-awaited new album entitled Heigh Ho, which was released to critical acclaim on Tuesday. This album marks the first time Mills has released new material since his debut, Break Mirrors in 2010. Since then, he has served as a session musician for nearly everyone in the business. He also has produced albums for everyone from Sara Watkins to Alabama Shakes.
No, it is not just Clapton that loves Mills. For this album, he collaborated with a myriad of different artists, bringing together such celebrated talent as drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Don Was. On Thursday night, Mills brought another one of his celebrity collaborators, Fiona Apple with him on stage to perform a few songs. Mills toured with the Criminal singer last Fall and she returned the favor by loaning her voice to his new tune, the raw and confessional, “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me.” The duo then treated the audience to a spellbinding cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.”
Her powerhouse vocals perfectly coalesced with his heartbreakingly beautiful notes on the electric guitar. Apple and Mills then slipped right into “Seven”, another sweet track off his new album. Here the singer and guitarist adorably admit, “Its the seventh song on the record that always makes me cry/Its been seven years since we caught each other’s eye/ You’re the seventh true love I’ve had in my life/You are the only one I would take to be my bride.” The quirky and delightful vocalist has such palpable musical chemistry with Mills. It was a gift to see the two of them play off one another.
Humble and witty, Mills reacted perfectly when a female audience-member called the guitar god “sexy” during a momentary lull in the action. Mills quickly retorted, “Is that you, mom?” as crowd then erupted in laughter. The artist then performed some old favorites from Break Mirrors, starting with the soft and reflective, “It Will All Work Out”. He then melted into the tender “Women Know” and “Story of My Life”. After thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Mills came back on stage for an encore, a soulful rendition of Elvis’ “Tomorrow Never Comes.”
Admittedly, Mills is not one for banter or anecdotes in-between songs, but he does not need them. The songs speak for themselves. He is certainly blessed with an enormous amount of talent. That is for sure. However, it is far more interesting to see how Mills brings out the best in those around him. For the artist, it is truly a team effort and one based on playful creativity and passion. This is where true talent lies.
Heigh Ho is now available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Music.
Photo by Kathy Flynn, Wicked Goddess Photography