Issue March 11, 2008

CD Review: Lizz Wright

The Orchard
Lizz Wright
(Verve Forecast)

Though it’s tempting to play guessing games as to why this doesn’t continue Wright’s fast-ascending career arc, the greater mystery remains in the peculiar wonders that were on her previous (second) disc. She even found something new in “A Taste of Honey” on that one. Here on her third collection, there are fewer covers (a good restrained take on Led Zep’s “Thank You”; even better with some Ike Turner and an old Patsy Cline plaint). The many originals amount to a partnership with Toshi Reagon—and though these songs are fine, they don’t often ask much of vocalist Wright.  Without a compelling task to test her jazzier side, she seems content to interpret within a narrow range of gospel-leaning hues. Given the precise production of Craig Street and appearances by Chocolate Genius and Joey and John from Calexico, it’s no surprise the arrangements are never plodding or arch. Instead, a careful bed of embers is prepared for a vocalist who could raise an inferno, but is only emitting occasional quixotic sparks amid sturdy warmth.