BY STEVE WILSON
With that voice, Lydia Loveless is always going to get described as a country singer. She is indeed a product of a rural upbringing, growing up on a farm just outside of Coshocton, Ohio. But that Lynn-Wells twang is simply a general reflection of her roots, more than any precise musical inspiration (although her namesake Patti Loveless isn’t too far afield). Her energy comes from country, punk and rock; she’s as “Americana” as you can get – without being Americana. Like Lucinda Williams with rougher poetics and a less weary voice, Loveless sings straight from the gut, heart and soul, mostly about identity and relationships.
A fan of Hank Williams III, she also heard Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman,” and was inspired by the delivery, if not the clichés it promoted. And while her spit and vinegar remind of vintage Maria McKee (Lone Justice), she’s too full of sass for the grievously angelic delivery of Emmylou Harris or Neko Case.
Her first album was recorded independently, when Loveless was all of fifteen. That debut was a little timid, a bit slick and she has since all but disowned it. But it was an introduction to that voice, and an auspicious one indeed given both her passionate delivery and her confident lyric voice, for an artist so young.
Somewhere Else, her second release for Chicago’s alt-country bastion Bloodshot, is Loveless’ most assured, most rocking, and savagely mature release yet. Her husband, bassist Ben Lamb, anchors a guitar driven band that’s equal parts Stones and Drive-by Truckers – taut and loose at the same time. At times Loveless’s voice even sounds a trifle buried under the bar band roar of her musicians, as if overcompensating for the polite mix of her debut, but generally the balance works, especially played loud.
The modest plaint (“I just thought I would call to see how you were doing”) of “I Really Want to See You Again,” is deceptively innocent, for a “if loving you is wrong” appeal from a gal chasing a married former boyfriend, loaded on nose candy. But Lydia’s just a modern gal (of course she’s had it in the ear before, as Iggy sang). The prevailing message on Somewhere Else is that of a woman driven by passion and unashamed of its pursuit. The literary name check of “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” isn’t so much literary history as metaphor for an extremity of feeling and desire.
“Wine Lips” is another striking track, shades of Lucinda singing Buddy Holly. “Hurt So Bad” shirks on tune a little, but it’s Little Anthony mood interpreted by Tracy Nelson charms, anyway. “Head” isn’t a Prince cover, but the subject matter is similarly frank; Love sounding a bit like Robin Lane (and the Chartbusters? Remember them?), making a Cabernet soaked request for oral pleasure.
A sweet departure from Loveless’ booze soaked, lust saturated art comes (sorry!) with her closing cover of Kirsty MacColl’s charming “They Don’t Know About Us.” Made a hit by Tracey Ullman, the song remains a pop-gorgeous shot of distaff Nick Lowe – pure pop for dreamers, and Loveless plays it for every defiant, devoted and lovely second.
With her almost stream of consciousness talk-sing, some melodies on Somewhere Else are better formed than others. Like Patti Smith her songs can be as strong ultimately as the care invested in her hooks. Her craft fails her slightly on cuts like the title track, or “Chris Isaak,” but it’s strong more often than not. And when paired with the aching quality, by turns ravaged and luminous, of her voice, Loveless’ music is powerful stuff. And at twenty-three, three albums into her career, she’s just getting started.
DOWNLOAD: “They Don’t Know About Us,” “Wine Lips,” “I Really Want to See You Again”