[2 June 2010]
Country singer Chely Wright recently hit the headlines with her People magazine pronouncement that she was gay. The hot looking chick who had sung men-hungry hits such as “Single White Female” and “Jezebel” declared what she wanted was a woman. Wright has been no stranger to controversy. Her 2004 “The Bumper of My S.U.V.” put her in the public eye for its pro-military lyrics, even though Wright declared that was not her intention (a woman gives Wright the middle finger because she displays a bright red U.S. Marines sticker on the fender).
Lifted Off the Ground comes out of the same impulse that had her publicly declare her homosexuality and even pen an autobiography, Like Me. One might think this kind of stimulus would cause Wright to rock out. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an introspective record. The songs are quiet. The lyrics are reflective. Oh, there are a few exceptions, such as “Notes to the Coroner” and “That Train”, but they are mid-tempo pieces that ramble more than shake the listener. Wright sings about wanting to be free and to be herself, but her wishes are modest.
Whether the record is worthy of the hoopla depends on how sexually conservative one perceives contemporary country music to be. Wright is not a major star, and her coming out does not seem as radical as the recent publicity suggests. Her new disc offers the kind of pleasures one usually associates with singer-songwriter folk pop more than country (think Cheryl Wheeler, Eliza Gilkyson, Janis Ian, et al.). Wright fits right in with those performers, and her coming out would be no big deal for artists in that genre. Musically, Lifted Off the Ground would never be a country success whether the songs were straight or gay, because it doesn’t really sound enough like a contemporary country record—the kind Wright used to make.