Pegi Young & the Survivors / Pegi Young

Lonely in a Crowded Room

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Though Pegi Young began her musical career as a backing vocalist in Neil Young's band in 2000, it wasn't until 2006 that she began making her own records, showcasing simply constructed yet well-crafted songs that ranged through country, folk, rock, and retro R&B. Each album, from her self-titled debut through 2011's Bracing for Impact, was stronger than its predecessor. Lonely in a Crowded Room was produced by Niko Bolas. Young's Survivors include longtime cohorts keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Kelvin Holly, and drummer Phil Jones, as well as new bassist Rick Rosas and backing vocalists Paula and Charlene Holloway. Young wrote seven of these ten tunes. Bracing for Impact touched on Muscle Shoals-esque R&B more than once, but several tracks here -- notably the covers -- are steeped in it. "Ruler of My Heart," penned by "Naomi Neville" (aka Allen Toussaint), was a hit for Irma Thomas in 1963, and Jerry Ragovoy and Diana Haig's soul waltz "Don't Let Me Be Lonely" is here too. Both are emotionally wrenching and musically savvy, with well-placed backing vocals and Oldham's various funky keyboards woven throughout. Between these tunes is his own "Lonely Women Make Good Lovers," an oft-covered honky tonk standard that registered hits for Bob Luman (1972) and Steve Wariner (1983). Young's version is the only female cover in a long list. Oldham plays various keyboards including electric piano, organ, and upright piano, framed by blunted guitar vamps and a whining pedal steel. Emboldened by her accompaniment, Young takes no prisoners when she digs out the irony in the lyric. Her own songs meet the standard set by the covers. The country-rock in "I Be Weary" contains a poetic lyric that juxtaposes desire with the realities of life lived on its own terms, set atop blended acoustic and electric guitars with pedal steel and synths. "Better Livin' Through Chemicals" is a finger-popping jazz-blues indictment of the pharmaceutical industry with killer walking baritone saxophone. The poignant rocker "Obsession" is swaggering with tight, cracking snare, grooving electric piano, the Holloway sisters' soulful backing vocals, and Holly's roiling guitar. The Southern R&B feel returns in her "Feel Just Like a Memory," which reveals -- from both sides -- the black hole of love abandoned by half a couple. Her phrasing reveals an admiration for Dusty Springfield's. "Walking on the Tightrope," with Mickey Raphael on harmonica, is a gritty country-rocker about personal identity in a time of emotional and psychological uncertainty. The set closes with "Blame It on Me," a short honky tonk toast to the futility of accusation. Lonely in a Crowded Room extends the promise Young displayed on her earlier records. Her working relationship with this band -- especially Oldham and Holly, who arranged the material -- is more commanding; it illuminates her burgeoning confidence and skill as both singer and songwriter.

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