In the Right Bar for Slow and Smooth
This is an excellent album as it showcases the excellent vocal of Lizz Wright, a simple process made even more excellent by fine supporting musicianship. Opener Barley keeps it simplest, with acoustic guitar and bass and brushed drums setting a brisk rhythmic touch beneath Wright’s deeply smooth voice. This is followed by the gospel-infused Nina Simone song Seems I’m Never Tired of Lovin’ You, a delicate guitar lick working through, the organ building and you know what’s coming in the hymnal approach when an Atlanta church choir joins in to wrap it all in a glorious celebration – Wright quite able to hold the centre with so much other beauty in the surround. This is an extremely strong start.
So strong, one wonders how anything else can follow. I think the variation is what succeeds, as next Singing In My Soul is a jaunty difference and thus the shift in pace captures. Another familiar might seem to be up for a struggle, but Toussaint’s Southern Nights gets a slowed and smoothed late-night caress from Wright’s sweetest depths of voice.
The title track is also slow and smooth in its gentle resonance, with Wright drawing out the word ‘grace’ in the chorus with an effortless, natural warble, and then is joined again by the choir. Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand gets a plaintive but protesting purposefulness, pedal steel pushing it along. This is beautiful. k.d. lang’s Wash Me Clean is perhaps the most un-changed of the covers, again a slowed version [even more than the original] but the perfection in the vocal is so akin to lang’s as to be more mirror than altering.
The album closes on a co-write with Maia Sharp All the Way Here and it fits into the pattern of generally calmed, grooved ballads brought to brightness by the vocal. Pedal steel again has a melancholic strain to play. And if you really wanted upbeat then this was the wrong club to walk into.