Saturday, September 4, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1502: Lydia Luce

Welcome to the long weekend! Let’s get right to the review, as I have a game of Ultimate to play.

Disc 1502 is…. Dark River

Artist: Lydia Luce

Year of Release: 2021

What’s up with the Cover? Lydia Luce, looking verklempt. She may be wondering, “Why, o why did I wear this shoulder-less gown to the river. I knew there would be a chill breeze!

The river behind her looks a bit like its dried up and turned into a stretch of blown sand to me, but wadi I know? Get it? Get it?

Man, I crack myself up

How I Came To Know It: The boring way. I read a review and decided to check her out. The album was hard to locate, including not being posted on her own bandcamp site for some time (I think maybe the review preceded the release?) but eventually she put up a digital copy for download. I turned it into a CD because hey, that’s how I like it.

How It Stacks Up: I only have one Lydia Luce album so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 3 stars

When I first heard “Dark River” I thought it was going to be one of my favourite albums of 2021, but on subsequent listens cracks began to show in my enthusiasm.

I was initially drawn in by Luce’s smoky and mysterious voice. When she sings it feels like she’s trusting you with a secret, particularly in her low range, where she reminded me favourably of jazz chanteuse Holly Cole. In her upper range her voice takes on a pop quality, although this is aided by the overall production which has a lot of bells and whistles. The arrangements are a little by the numbers, and the additional flourishes of sound effects and horn are OK, but don’t add anything significant to the experience.

The album starts strong, with two tracks (“Occasionally”, “Dark River”) that walk the line near jazz but remain grounded in music that I can, you know, enjoy. “Occasionally” has a delightful up-turning hook as she sings the title with the whimsy and uncertainty the word deserves. “Dark River” is driven by a drum-heavy mix, and while there is a bit of eighties-era Heart in this tune, I have a soft spot for eighties-era Heart.

Something to Say” is another strong entry, and the folksiest song on the record. Luce’s vocals on this tune are sweeter than usual, and she puts a lilting quality into the verses that underscores the theme of lost love. In later verses she introduces a bit of excess production that threatens to crowd the song, but it has strong enough bones to hold it off.

Unfortunately, there are an equal number of songs that were not my cup of tea. Not objectively bad, but since its my music blog, I’m going to tell you all the ways they annoyed me anyway.

First off, some tunes don’t have a hint of jazz, but instead dive right in. “Tangled Love” and “Just the Same” both have strong jazz qualities in their melodic structure. It is that old-school Sinatra jazz that I prefer, not the anxiety-inducing modern stuff at least. I felt like Luce had been listening a lot to “In the Wee Small Hours” when writing these tunes. I love “In the Wee Small Hours” (see my review at Disc 1211) but the style doesn’t translate here.

Elsewhere (“Somehow”, “Maybe in Time”) the tunes are just as jazzy but have an additional cloying quality. On both, I had a vision of Luce – in the same gown as on the cover – holding her hand to her breast as she sings a “I’m so alone” soliloquy from some musical theatre production. If you like musical theatre, you would likely find these songs quite beautiful. I do not like musical theatre.

“Dark River” shows a lot of range, as Luce tries out her impressive vocals a whole suite of styles, and this alone makes the album worth a listen. However, some of the styles she tries out end up sounding overwrought, losing me right when they mean to draw me in. Overall, a good record, but not a great one.

Best tracks: Occasionally, Dark River, Something to Say, Never Been Good

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