Something interesting is happening with Chely Wright. Fifteen years after breaking out as a fresh, new face of Nashville, Wright could have continued down the mainstream country/pop road, singing mostly other writers' songs and playing the "radio-hit-or-die" game. But we knew change was afoot when Wright signed with Vanguard, home of numerous earworthy, eclectic performers (and DC faves) such as The Watson Twins, Greg Laswell and Mindy Smith. Then we heard that Wright's self-penned new album Lifted Off the Ground (May 4) was being produced by the always excellent Rodney Crowell, a modern traditionalist of the Nashville music scene who has always found a way to color outside of the creative lines in a genre that rarely rewards such behavior.
True to expectations, Lifted captures the best of the country spirit -- remarkable, rural-tinged songwriting and lack of pretense -- but, with Crowell's exquisite ear for acoustic detail, also drops in some elegant and effective touches of rootsy Americana. Many of the songs have a less-is-more brisk folk/rock energy and lack, thankfully, the syrupy orchestrations and steel-guitar melodrama that can turn a great Nashville song into an overproduced mush of mediocrity. From the sauntering bass lines of "Broken" to the chugging clip and sweet accordion flourishes of "Snow Globe", Lifted Off the Ground is a revelation of sublime understatement. But the album's most telling moments may come at close as the 6+ minute ballad "Shadow of Doubt" marries a mandolin-graced waltz to Wright's near-whispered vocal intimacy -- a song, alone, that's worth the price of admission. Recommended.
Chely Wright - "Broken" (from the album Lifted Off the Ground)