Lizz Wright ‘Grace’ (Concord) 4/5

Singer Lizz Wright has regularly straddled the roots of Americana, cross-cutting from blues to folk to contemporary soul. For this latest recording, she seems to have struck just the right balance between them, ably produced by Americana specialist Joe Henry, with the outcome arguably her strongest album thus far. If there are hints of both Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin in her voice, the whole is unmistakably hers and the emphasis is upon where gospel, blues and folk all come together harmoniously.

A real favourite is the 1950’s style blues piano and guitar on ‘Singing In My Soul’, while the percussive opener, ‘Barley’, showcases the evocative delivery of Wright’s voice with a sparse accompaniment magnifying her vocal talents. The repertoire is eclectic and judiciously chosen with numbers from Dylan, Ray Charles and Allen Toussaint all featuring. Country-folk blues permeate Dylan’s ‘Every Grain of Sand’, while a roots take on ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’, with guest guitar from Marc Ribot is a treat.

For some uplifting and sanctified hues, look no further than, ‘What would I do?’ and this is followed up with the righteous sounding Hammond and vocals in an intimate setting of, ‘Seems I’m never tired lovin’ you’. New Orleans is a musical heritage all of its own and Wright takes on board a Toussaint staple, ‘Southern nights’, with aplomb. Nothing over-elaborate, Lizz Wright has successfully bridged the gap between blues, folk and gospel, and in this endeavour, there are few, if any rivals. Her most complete album to date.

Tim Stenhouse