Utne Reader Music Reviews

Lizz Wright, Dengue Fever, Bob Mould, Fire on Fire, Tyler Ramsey

| Mar.-Apr. 2008

Singing Grace

Lizz Wright
The Orchard (Verve Forecast)

There are singers with big, bawdy voices, singers with range enough to go from falsetto to a down-low croon, singers who boldly express unremitting joy or unbridled pain. Then there’s Lizz Wright, a subtle artist who plays in the places and fills in the spaces where we more often live and breathe. Her blend of intuition, dignity, and hard-earned experience endows her with a talent that is not so obviously god-given—emotional credibility.

The Orchard is a rainbow of nuance. In the gospel blues opener, “Coming Home,” Wright invokes exhaustion, hope, and resolve all at once, singing with one foot in the cotton fields and the other in the pew. In “When I Fall,” she conveys the vulnerability, the indecision, and the thrill of falling in love. In the next song, “Leave Me Standing Alone,” she reacts to a broken relationship not with cheap notions of revenge, but with a mixture of self-admonishment for getting involved and rue over what the union could have become.

There are delightful exceptions to these dilemmas, including the joyful, baptismal “Song for Mia” and a quiet, soulfully dumbstruck cover of Patsy Cline’s “Strange.” It adds up to a profoundly graceful collection, enabled by the spare, pristine production of Craig Street (who came to fame producing Wright’s kindred spirit, Cassandra Wilson), and by Wright’s cocomposer on five songs, singer-guitarist Toshi Reagon. But it is the fruit of Wright’s labor that really fills this Orchard.

—Britt Robson