Artist: Lizz Wright
Album: Freedom & Surrender
Label: Concord Music Group
Release Date: 09/04/2015
We could easily ask, “What genre will Lizz Wright give us next?” or simply acknowledge that whatever she wants to do with her glorious voice will be just fine. Thankfully, this amazing singer and increasingly talented songwriter is back after a five year gap. This is her fifth album and debut for Concord, following 2010’s gospel oriented Fellowship, which was preceded by two rootsy bluesy albums and a jazz debut. On this recording we hear hints of those styles, but it reads mostly as a romantic, sensual R&B/pop album reminiscent at times of Marvin Gaye or very early Roberta Flack. In fact, you also hear echoes of many fine female vocalists that producer Larry Klein has worked with, like Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Madeleine Peyroux. In part, it’s his sound and the type of session players he enlists, but it’s also because Klein collaborated with Wright in writing ten of the fifteen songs. Given Wright’s genre defying approach and her undaunting vocal versatility, the pairing with Klein almost seems predestined.
Although the original concept was to do mostly cover tunes, Wright had other ideas: “There’s a time to do cover-song records, which can be like sharing good homework after doing really beautiful research… But I just knew it wasn’t time for me to be doing that. I had to prove it and buckle down and make it happen.”
Wright also involved other collaborators. “Right Where You Are” was written with Klein and J.D. Souther and features a duet with Gregory Porter. The bookend songs from which the album takes its name were written with frequent collaborator, Toshi Reagan, while another long-time cohort, Jesse Harris, lent his pen to two of the most sensually laden tunes, “The Game” and “Lean In.” Her two covers are as gorgeous as the originals, rendering the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” in achingly slow tempo, while delivering Nick Drake’s “River Man” in a slow jazzy style featuring noted German trumpeter, Till Bronner.
The album is influenced by a near death experience that Wright had on an icy mountain curve, where her vehicle would have fallen into a 75 foot ravine had it not been blocked by a young tree. As Wright explains, “In surrender I experience freedom. The gift of an end is a beginning. I greet the sun with the only reason I’ve ever needed, “why not?”” Wright’s exploratory spirit is understandably layered with tons of emotion on this effort. Catch her in NYC on 9/10 at the Highline Ballroom.
– Jim Hynes