Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lydia Loveless: If You Give a Damn About Rock and Female Singers, Check Her Out

     I started playing Lydia Loveless’s second album Somewhere Else (2014) and I was thrilled by the time she sang the third note.  Dang, I thought, a real rock singer!  I’d read about her earlier this year in City Beat because she was playing a concert here, but we weren’t going so I forgot about it until I was in Everybody’s Records looking for something else.  I saw her name and was arrested by the album cover, which doesn’t reproduce well, because it was elegant black 
lettering on a dark, moody profile photograph of her.  The inside sleeve displays the polar opposite:  straight on head shot of her in a white lace dress, everything white on white except for her open yet guarded dark eyes.

Lydia Loveless
     Loveless has been described as a country, country rock, and country punk singer.  Except for the steel guitar used on a couple of tracks and the slight twang in her voice, she doesn’t come across as country, but rather as a straight ahead rocker leading a slamming guitar band that salutes the late ‘70s.  As Spin magazine wrote, ‘Is Stevie Nicks singing lead on “Born to Run” overstating it?  Probably, but too bad.’  Actually, she has a bigger, clearer voice than Nicks.  It comes out of her diaphragm and chest, not her throat and nose.  There’s a yowl as well as tremolo and vibrato that made me feel she might lose control and end up yodeling or hog calling.  Of course, Springsteen sometimes gave off the same vibe, especially in his twenties and this album recalls his reckless, keening Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978).  That tightrope walking sound also reminded me of both Springsteen’s duet partner Patti Smith and Bette Midler and it’s easy to forget that she was (and probably still is) both a powerful and poignant rocker when she chose that type of material in “Beast of Burden” and “Shiver Me Timbers.”  

     The seventh track “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” in which she sings ‘I wanna love you like a father loves a son’ feels like a tribute to Smith’s imagery as well as the Biblical prodigal son parable, but simultaneously explores her desperation in ‘I wanna be the only one you love / so take me home.’  As Jon Stewart pointed out about Springsteen during the Kennedy Center Honors, it was the sense of yearning in his songs that compelled him (and a generation) to listen.  That’s Lydia’s jumping-off point in the first two tracks, “Really Wanna See You,” and “Wine Lips.”  

     Loveless reveals her hand in the last three cuts.  “Somewhere Else” has a bass line and backing vocals that could have been used in Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors (1977) and she sings nasally, thereby directly honoring Nicks.   However, the jangling lead guitar departs from the Lindsey Buckingham model.  The epic “Everything’s Gone” describes a generation realizing there’s nothing for them except ‘to burn a rich man’s house down.’  It sounds the most traditionally country and seems to be about both the Depression era generation (and the dawn of American roots music as a commercial genre renamed Country & Western) and the Millennials waking up to the sparseness that avails them.  Her only cover “They Don’t Know,” by Kirsty MacColl, but a hit for Tracey Ullman in 1984, settles on a more bittersweet note; these could be lovers on the lam.  

    Lydia Loveless from Coshocton by way of Columbus is twenty-four and she’s established her artistic voice.  She clearly answers the oft-asked American Idol query, ‘what kind of artist are you?’  A female singer has a tough time making it big in any genre except pop in the current music world.  I believe that’s the reason Taylor Swift crossed over.  Country is primarily a Caucasian man’s game and Hip Hop is primarily an African-American man’s game.  Alternative rock was pretty much killed off by boy bands and bubble girls in the late ‘90s and iTunes exists for the single.  How refreshing and retro that a female artist writes and sings rock music and places it in an intentional album format.  Here’s hoping more than a few of us are taking note.

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