Amy LaVere – Stranger Me

January 01, 1970

(Archer Records)


Three albums into her career, Amy LaVere continues to define
and refine her musical voice with Stranger
, an album of intoxication and evocation. With only drummer and now
ex-boyfriend Paul Taylor on hand from the wonderful crew which created her 2007
breakthrough Anchors & Anvils,
LaVere explores new musical ground while retaining the daring intimacy and
fearlessness which attracted us to her in the first place.


The legendary producer Jim Dickinson, who had been at the
helms for Anchors & Anvils,
passed away before LaVere could record with him again. Her long-time and
distinctive guitarist Steve Selvidge was recruited to become a touring member
of the Hold Steady. When LaVere and Taylor broke up, she tried going into the
studio with completely new musicians, but found that she needed that musical
rock he provided. She’s played bass with his drums for so long that even
without the romantic connection, they had to remain a team.


Craig Silvey, who engineered the last Arcade Fire album, was
brought in to produce; he obviously knew a thing or two about how to expand
LaVere’s sound beyond the basic instrumentation of her live band. Keyboardist
Rick Steff (who has worked with Lucinda Williams, Cat Power, and Lucero) owns
at least as many instruments as Silvey used with Arcade Fire, and he comes up
with perfect sonic fits on each song here. Guitarist David Cousar rounds out
the new band with the ability to play rootsy or raucous, not to mention many
styles in between.


LaVere brought seven new originals to the table for this
one. “Damn Love Song” is the opener and immediate firecracker. With a slow
burning big riff from Cousar behind her, LaVere spitefully offers the
invocations of amour requested of her from some nameless person offering ideas
for a hit single. “Stranger Me” brings Lucero’s bassist John Stubblefield on
board to double up with LaVere for a compelling, simple groove on which Cousar
and Steff (on grand piano and microKORG here) drop hints of bigger ideas always
just out of reach before the whole thing swirls into what can only be described
as a roots rock version of the Cocteau Twins.


As always, LaVere throws in a handful of covers. Captain
Beefheart’s “Candle Mambo” is likely to attract the most attention, if only
because few have the nerve to cover Beefheart, and fewer still have the
imagination to build a new and enticing arrangement of one of his songs.
There’s also a lovely version of Bobby Charles “Let Yourself Go (Come On)” in
which she drops the country arrangement of the original for something slightly
more mysterious and alluring. Jimbo Mathus, who played on LaVere’s debut album This World Is Not My Home, contributes a
beautiful little number called “Lucky Boy,” and LaVere continues to reveal the
songwriting talents of complete unknown Kristi Witt, who wrote the powerful
“Red Banks.” LaVere has done a Witt song on each of her three albums and an EP.


LaVere’s vocals are deceptively lightweight. Her voice is
high and thin, but she phrases eloquently and conveys a wide range of emotional
conviction throughout all her work. With a solid collection of songs and some
enormously creative and varied approaches to playing them, Stranger Me is the best work yet of an artist likely to continue
growing further. 


Love Song,” “Stranger Me,” “Candle Mambo.” STEVE PICK

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