Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Impressions: Stranger Me by Amy Lavere

“Right now, I’ll do it right now, here’s your damn love song and don’t it say it all,” Amy Lavere sneers at the start of “Damn Love Song” on her third effort, Stranger Me. It captures the ethos of this album perfectly: defiance and cynicism attempting to mask underlying heartbreak. Here’s another one (from “You Can’t Keep Me”): “I’m stomping outta here. I hope the dishes rattle down off your shelf.”

These lyrics ride over an array of musical styles, although all within the blues-rock-Americana range. The opening track starts with a harmonium and then moves into a crunching blues drone. “Red Banks” (one of my favorite tracks) moves from a quiet, tense acoustic blues to a hard, swampy chorus, her voice doubling the last line of each verse in classic style. True to its title, the jazzy shuffle of “A Great Divide” settles things down, leading into the quiet middle of the album: “Often Happens,” “Lucky Boy” (with plucked strings delicately matching a plucked acoustic guitar), and “Tricky Heart.”

Her upright bass is a constant presence, throbbing under most tracks, more forward in the mix than you’d expect but understandable when the artist is the bass player! Most importantly, it works.

Lavere wrote most of the songs herself, occasionally with collaborators, but she also includes a Captain Beefheart song, “Candle Mambo,” and contributions from lesser known songwriters, such Louisiana native Bobby Charles, Jimbo Mathus and Kristi Witt. She’s a strong songwriter and has picked strong collaborators in producing an album that sounds like a swampier and harder Lucinda Williams.

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