Lizz Wright's sophomore release is a great production of songs impeccably crafted, both soul-rending originals and poignant renditions of pop classics. Wright, who more or less emerged as a professional singer after she debuted with a 2002 series of tribute concerts to Billie Holiday, continues to demonstrate exquisite taste.
As good as the songs, instrumentation, playing, and production are on Dreaming Wide Awakeand they are all quite goodWright's allure is ultimately all about her voice. Somehow this luminous voice bridges the gap between the secular blues confessionals of Tracy Chapman or Joan Armatrading and the spiritual gospel confessionals of Anita Baker. Yes, this voice is that good.
Wright's voice leads a core band of keyboardist Glenn Patscha, bassist David Piltch (Holly Cole, k.d. lang), and Seal sidemen guitarist Chris Bruce and drummer Earl Harvin. Guest musicians on this set include guitarist Bill Frisell and Marc Anthony "Chocolate Genius Thompson; it was produced by Craig Street, who should certainly know his way around the genre from his previous productions for Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang, Holly Cole, and most recently Norah Jones (Come Away With Me).
Wright shapes her interpretations into reflections upon herself through the looking glass of others' lyrics, and let this considerable voice shine through. For openers, "A Taste of Honey as urgent and dark and sweet and liquid as a stolen midnight kiss, and leading into a gorgeously melancholy reading of Joe Henry's "Stop ; profound folk meditations on the Youngblood's "Get Together and Neil Young's "Old Man, poured from Wright's smoldering soul into brooding blues. "I'm Confessin' serves as her confessional, but swings more lightly in the tradition of jazzy blues.
Full of mystery and wonder, Wright's original material swims these same spiritual depths. She moans the blues with strong echoes of Chapman to "Hit the Ground, openly wonders how to find the strength to overcome "Trouble, then gives thanks to her guiding muse in the title track, yet she softly and colorfully twirls like a little girl through rootsy, Al Green-ish soul in "When I Close My Eyes.
The sound of a solitary soul seeking communion, the thoughtful Dreaming Wide Awake would be a great gift for a young woman on the threshold of adulthood.