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The Graham Album Review #2196

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Lizz Wright: Shadow

(Blues and Greens Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/22/2024)

Jazz vocals and pop vocal styles really are quite different, in terms of technique, in additional to the style. The obvious difference is between rock screamers and jazz crooners. But even more laid-back rock vocalists seem to have trouble getting jazz vocals right, and vice versa. This week, we have a new release from a singer who easily moves back and forth between jazz and pop and soul styles in an appealing low alto voice. It’s Lizz Wright, and her new release is called Shadow.

Elizabeth LaCharla Wright was born in rural Georgia, where her father was the pastor in a small church, and at a young age Lizz became his musical director. At age 22, she began to attract attention as a vocalist in a touring tribute to the great jazz vocalist Billie Holiday. She also continued to work in the Gospel field, recording an album with an Atlanta-based Gospel group called Spirit. Then in 2003, at age 23, she was signed to Verve Records, which released her debut album Salt. It reached #2 on the Billboard contemporary jazz album charts at the time. She has since recorded 7 more albums, with time out around 2010 to attend culinary school.

Her new album, her eighth in a 20-year recording career features more original material than some of her previous releases, and it’s an eclectic stylistic mix, which she attributes to the fact that it’s on her own record label Blues and Greens Records, with no pressure from a record company to go for a commercial sound. She is joined by an interesting list of guests, including African-world music great Angelique Kidjo, Adam Levy on guitar; known for his work with Norah Jones, Indian-style violinist Arun Ramamurthy, eclectic pop artist Mishell Ndegocello on bass, keyboard man Glenn Patcha from the band Ollabelle, jazz harpist Brandee Younger, to name a few. While original songs are the focus of the album, the cover material runs the gamut from Cole Porter to Sandy Denny of the English folk group Fairport Convention, to folk artist Gillian Welch.

But the emphasis is on the original songs, and the album opens with one called Sparrow featuring Angelique Kidjo as a guest vocal. Me Wright and her band give the song some African-style influences. <<>>

Mishell Ndegeocello and harpist Brandee Younger appear on another original song called Your Love. It’s an interesting stylistic mix with an almost dance-oriented rhythm with Ms. Wright’s sultry vocal. <<>

The album includes a blues tune by Clarence Carter called Sweet Feeling, and it is given an interesting approach, with the strong bass drum line, and acoustic guitar, fitting in well with the bluesy mood. Ms. Wright’s vocal really shines on the track.

Another direction comes on the original song This Way, an original song, done as a ballad with a Gospel-style vocal group, which was probably Ms. Wright multiply overdubbed. <<>>

Ms. Wright, as a jazz-influenced singer, includes a jazz standard by Cole Porter, I Concentrate on You with a surprisingly melancholy arrangement featuring a small string section which adds to the blue mood. <<>>

A contrast to that is the original composition Circling a love song with a folky acoustic guitar and Ms. Wright giving it a warm intimate performance. <<>>

The album ends with two covers. One is the classic Sandy Denny song Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Ms. Wright’s sultry vocal gives the introspective song that Fairport Convention and Judy Collins recorded, a somewhat different spin, and it becomes one of the highlights of the album. <<>>

The closing track is I Made a Lover’s Prayer by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. It’s another example of Ms. Wright’s ability to bridge the folk, soul, and jazz influence in her vocal performance, and in the arrangements on the album.

Shadow the new eighth album by multi-faceted vocalist and songwriter Lizz Wright is another fine recording by a consistently outstanding performer, who over her 20 year recording career has been able to bridge stylistic boundaries for the material she performs, and fuses it through her own distinctive warm, sometimes sultry vocal style. This album features more original compositions than some of her previous releases, and her work as a songwriter, often collaborating with others in the composing, is outstanding. The arrangements on the album can go in rather unexpected directions, especially with the cover songs, but they ultimately work well and underscore this album’s distinctive quality.

Our grade for audio quality is about a B, with the vocals well-recorded, but some of the instrument sounds are not very clean, and there is the typical heavy-handed dose of volume compression which gives squashes out much of the dynamics of the performance.

Lizz Wright has scored with another fine album that can appeal to fans of jazz, folk and soulful pop.

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This page last updated May 20, 2024