At only 25 years of age, singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless sings with a voice befitting someone well advanced in years. Not a weary, ragged with age type of voice, mind you, (though her Midwestern twang does sound a tad whiskey-soaked at times) but rather a lifetime’s worth of experience. Over the course of two previous full-length albums, she’s written and sang about love and loss, small-town bleakness, and hopeful yearning with an intensity and focus rarely matched by those in the country-rock community, let alone those in her age bracket. Her music has sparked a legion of loyal followers, enthusiastic endorsements from acts like Drive-By Truckers and Old 97s, and has even been the subject a feature-length documentary in the soon-to-be released Who Is Lydia Loveless, directed by the acclaimed documentarian Gorman Bechard. It’s safe to say that though her star has been established, it’s likely still rising higher.
Loveless’ previous work reflected a raw and live sensibility. With a rougher backbone and a peppy country-rock stomp, the music appeared spontaneous and urgent with minimum fuss or sheen applied. Her barnburners shook with energy and aplomb, while her delicate ballads still sparked with pings of nervous energy. A spin through her discography was spry and invigorating, akin to a night out at an after-hours, dingy music hall that features equal parts Replacements, Rolling Stones, and Emmylou Harris on its jukebox.
Here, items are slowed down and more meticulously crafted. In a move that may signal an eschewing of genre placement or typecasting, backing singers, subtle instrumental flourishes, and moments of studio polish make this album Loveless’ tidiest and slickest effort yet. Things also lean in a bit more of a pop-oriented direction. The infectious lead single, “Longer” glides and sways along, mining down a path that ambles precariously close to Top 40 Country, though the lyrical vulnerability and the sauciness of its’ accompanying video ensures that the track will keep its’ distance from CMT’s rotation schedule.
On “Out of Love”, Loveless sadly contemplates having to leave a relationship that, on the surface, seems so real and true. The production’s ‘80s ambience delicately arranged over the accompanying acoustic finger-picking gives the song a Stevie Nicks/Eurythmics vibe. It’s a different feel for Loveless, but one that suitably echoes the downtrodden nature of the material. “Heaven” takes the ‘80s stylistics even a step further, as a New Wave-esque beat anchors her epic tale of panic and anxiety: “”Cause I thought that I found a leaf and we could be together / But paradise is only for the weak, man / And no one goes to heaven.”
Lyrically, the album is stellar; like those lines from “Heaven”, it’s filled with combustible emotions, declarations of turmoil, and a need to reconcile the existential dread with the daily routine. At times, like on “More Than Ever” she utters her words with a devil-may-care emphatic shrug: “Well, I don’t wanna listen to you talk / Darling, don’t you wanna come and take a walk”, while at others, she seems to plead for a deeper understanding. On the album-closing title track, Loveless discerningly battles between acute feelings of despair, hope, and desperation, anchoring each verse with a varying degree of empathy: “I know just how it’s gonna feel”, “I know how it feels”, and “I know just how she feels”. It’s a magnificent reflection of human emotion seen through multiple perspectives and held together with the voice of someone young enough to be hopeful for change, yet wise enough to be resigned with the state of things.
It’s also an example that accurately summarizes Loveless’ songwriting perspective. She never bends or clouds her feelings in a barrage of words. Lyrical economy and an air of emotional realism work best in her regard. The aptly titled Real gives listeners a satisfying and enlightening further glimpse into her world, one that will surely be expanding with thoughts waiting to be put to song for years to come.
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