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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If I Had the Time: Lizz Wright

The last few days have been a clich├ęd flurry of activity as I try to get work done before my upcoming vacation. While I’m looking forward to the flight out Saturday, finishing up a little rush work for one client and trying to finish up a more difficult (and poorly estimated (damn me)) job has left me wishing I had just a few more days to get ready to go. All the work has left little time for writing, and most of my best writing has been reserved for a handful of comments on a few other sites.

So, starting now and ending some time Friday, I’m going to be sharing the things that I would be sharing if only I had a little more time to write.

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First on the list is Lizz Wright and her newish album, Dreaming Wide Awake.

If I had time, I’d tell you about my accidental discovery of Wright. I was searching the iTunes Music Store for new music from Joe Henry and came across one of his songs being covered by Lizz Wright. Since Henry isn’t all that well known, and since the song is one of my favorites, I had to delay my search and give Wright a quick, judgmental listen.

I was rewarded by one of the finest voices I’ve heard in a long time. While her version of Henry’s “Stop” isn’t quite as lively or addictive as the original, it was more than enough to let me know that I wanted to hear more--and it confirmed her good taste in music. Dreaming wouldn’t make my short list for best of the year, though. A few of the songs (like the title song and “Without You") drift into the sort of banal easy listening that James Taylor would approve of and I find excruciatingly boring.

But the good stuff is transcendent. Her voice is full and sultry, completely unlike the whiny, thin things that pass for much of R&B these days. Wright’s sound is controlled and classic, usually without sacrificing the vitality of the song in the process--that is, it’s exceptional but not bland or over studied.

So, yeah, if I had time, I would tell you that “Hit the Ground” is one of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard and that, as soon as I heard it, I was seduced into buying the complete album. Her take on “Stop” and, very surprisingly, “Old Man” may not be as good as the original, but there is something addictive about her vocals and style that keep me going back to take another listen. “I’m Confessin’” is about as sweet a song as I can handle, but it will deservedly find itself on some chick flick soundtrack where the lovers find themselves dancing at a black tie function, where love is idyllic and wonderful, and the major plot complication has yet to be revealed. That last bit might not sound like a good thing, and, in honesty, I’m not sure that it is. I keep listening to the song, though.

And maybe that’s the thing: Lizz Wright is about as seductive, vocally, as anyone I’ve ever heard sing.

I wish the album were as perfect as her voice, though; that all the songs were classics just waiting to be heard. Unfortunately, her voice often rises far above her material, making this a mixed bag for me. This is sweet, sexy, beautiful, and good where her voice just begs for great. Still, this is worth a listen for your quieter moments and your long, lazy winter nights cuddled up with someone special.

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