Thursday, November 5, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1421: Lydia Loveless

I first heard this next artist as an opening act at a concert. People who show up late to a concert and miss the opener aren’t just being rude (although it is rude) they’re also missing out on a chance to discover something new.

Disc 1421 is…. Real

Artist: Lydia Loveless

Year of Release: 2016

What’s up with the Cover? Lydia’s had a rough night, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll just back away slowly and let the lady enjoy her cigarette.

How I Came To Know It: I found out about Lydia Loveless because she was the opening act to a Mountain Goats show we saw in Portland last year. If you’d like to read a review of her show, go check it out at Disc 1298. I liked her stuff, so while I was down in the States I bought a couple of her albums. Not this one, though. I bought “Real” only last week through Bandcamp while rounding out my collection.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Lydia Loveless albums and I like them all, but one of them has to be last. This is it.

Ratings: 3 stars

“Real” has everything I like about Lydia Loveless: raw and real lyrics, her natural talent for storytelling and that big evocative voice. The only place the album failed me was on some of the production decisions.

First the good stuff, and let’s start with her voice. You know that tightness you get at the back of your throat right before you have a good cry? That’s Lydia Loveless’ vocals, minus the crying. She takes all that hurt and lets it fill her voice like a bellows, without ever losing control. There’s plenty of power there, and great tone but it is layered into a sort of mid-western twang, that helps it to sneak up on you.

Her talent for storytelling is also on display, and not always in pleasant ways. The album’s opening track, “Same to You” is an emotionally nuanced but brutal depiction of a toxic and abusive relationship. “Bilbao” isn’t as dark as that, but it has plenty of toughness and self-loathing. The opening stanza sets the perfect mix of scene and character in four simple lines:

“You take a walk I’d rather be lonely than ashamed
Of all the girls who think they know your name
Us dirty Italians are all the same
No one but me knows you could never be replaced.”

Other times she lands just off for me, such as on “Clumps” which bemoans “love turns into lust and milk turns into clumps.” The tune is great, but the central metaphor seems forced. However, the rest of the song is good enough that you’ll forgive it.

As for the production, it is uneven. On “Bilbao” she finds a good middle ground between country and rock, with a simple guitar piece slowly growing into a bigger, broader sound without ever becoming busy. The effect is like the song itself; romantic, profound and a bit tawdry.

On “Heaven” things go wrong from the start, with an unfortunate and fuzzed out bassline. The arrangement goes off from there, flitting between R&B and dance club while feeling overall out of step with the structure and content of the song. It is like Loveless is experimenting with different ways to voice the song, but the overall effect drowns its impact.

I should note at this point that those production choices weren’t bad so much as they weren’t always to my taste. You might suggest that music criticism shouldn’t insert personal opinion into the mix, but a fundamental part of how we appreciate art is subjective. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t without bias, they’re just trying to hide it.

There are some great tracks on “Real” and Loveless’ vocal performance will definitely give you a case of angst and heartache that you’ll enjoy. And while I appreciated Loveless’ fearless willingness to paint outside the lines and try out different approaches, it also leaves the record stylistically uneven in places.

If you are wanted to give Lydia Loveless a chance, I would suggest listening to her 2020 masterpiece, “Daughter” first. Once you’ve got an ear for her brilliance, come back and enjoy “Real” as a lesser - but still worthy - entry in her catalogue.

Best tracks: Same to You, Longer, Midwestern Guys, Bilbao

No comments: