Longley’s greatest strength is her ability to share her emotions while never conceding to whatever adversity comes her way.
It’s hard to carve a niche as a waif-like female singer these days. The competition is fierce, and besides, Joni Mitchell claimed that distinction nearly 50 years ago and have pretty much set the standard ever since. Likewise, there’s no shortage of assertive singers as well, but Janis Joplin and Grace Slick still trounce all comers all these decades later. Hence, all those opting to go to the extremes, either showing a sensitive side or belting out the blues, leave themselves little room to navigate, at least in terms of originality and creativity.
So what’s a singer like Liz Longley to do? On her new self-titled outing, her fourth album to date, she dares to take a variety of tacks, from the sedate to the serendipitous. She mainly operates in a confessional style, one that might bemoan her loneliness one moment and then begrudge a lover who’s a slacker and a scoundrel the next. "I couldn't stand the smell of smoke 'til he lit that cigarette / Never felt the temptation 'til I smelled it on his breath”, she sighs on the beleaguered ballad “Bad Habit.” That’s pretty solemn stuff, but its all part and parcel of Longley’s determination to jump genres, or at very least, avoid any hint of a consistent stance.
Granted, the album begins on a fairly low key note. Leadoff track “Outta My Head” is sedate and sensuous, as beguiling as anything she’s ever offered. “Skin and Bones” is flush with plaintive desire, while the supple sway of “You’ve Got That Way” and the torch song testimony of “Simple Love” attest to Longley’s simmering sensuality.
Still, as her emotions evolve, it becomes exceedingly clear that Longley isn’t ready to concede anything to circumstance. The sheer defiance of “Camaro”, an effective, fully fueled rocker, makes it clear she’s as fierce and determined as practically any insurgent. The surging rhythm and quickened pace of “Never Loved Another” also testifies to her tenacious attitude.
Even so, Longley’s tunes are rarely absolute. “We Run” finds her shifting stance in the space of a single song, from the pining wail of its initial verse to the anthemic salvo that signals its climatic conclusion. To her credit, Longley staunchly resists any attempt to be boxed into any single emotional mindset, reflecting instead the twists and tumble of most people’s everyday existence.
Regardless, the music stays sturdy and confident throughout, a comforting mesh of rootsy melodies and a sturdy underbelly that’s neither flimsy nor didactic, but instead a comfortable place in-between. On “Memphis” she imagines a fanciful journey to the promised land, while yet another lyric from “Bad Habit” sums up the disparity in her approach: “It tastes like trouble / But felt like my home.”
Ultimately, Longley’s greatest strength is her ability to share her emotions while never conceding to whatever adversity comes her way. Both evocative and expressive, these songs reflect an independent individual who takes her cue from only her instincts, and, in turn, gives a performance that leaves an immediate impression. Longley’s clearly ready to seize on stardom, and this album provides all the proof that’s needed.