Guitarist G.E. Smith and soul musician LeRoy Bell have shared a rugged take on the traditional folk ballad, “Black Is the Color,” that will appear on their debut album together, Stony Hill, out August 28th via BMG.
The age-old track originated in Scotland before making its way to the United States, where it became a staple of Appalachian folk music. Smith and Bell’s new version boasts a simmering blues-rock groove that allows Smith to work his guitar from a tiptoe to a full-on sprint, while Bell bellows the lovelorn lyrics, “Black is the color of my true love’s hair/Her lips are like some roses fair/The prettiest face and the daintiest hands/I love the ground on where she stands.”
The pair released an animated lyric video to accompany the song, which was created by Gary Smith. The clip finds a pair of hands typing out the lyrics to the song as if they were a love letter to the woman in the picture by the typewriter.
Smith and Bell both had lengthy and successful careers before linking up for Stony Hill. Between 1985 and 1995, Smith served as the musical director at Saturday Night Live, while he’s also played with Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, and Hall and Oates. Bell, meanwhile, was part of the soul duo Bell and James (with Casey James) and he’s worked as a songwriter for artists as varied as Elton John and Teddy Pendergrass, Jennifer Lopez and the Three Degrees. In 2011, his band, LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends, were finalists on the first season of the U.S. version of The X Factor.
It was Smith’s wife, Taylor Barton, who introduced the pair, and in a statement Smith recalled hearing Bell sing for the first time in 2018, “I’ve been looking for a great singer for 30 years, at least — not just a good singer, but a great singer. I said: ‘That’s the voice — that’s the one I’ve been looking for!'”
Stony Hill will primarily feature new songs written by Smith and Bell, both individually and together. Along with their rendition of “Black Is the Color,” the duo also covered Buffy Saint-Marie’s “Cod’ine” for the LP.
“It really intrigued me to do something that’s a little bit different and to bring my talent with his talent,” Bell said of his collaboration with Smith. “[To] try to make something new; make something happen. And I think we accomplished that.”