On her fourth album, Lizz Wright returns to her gospel roots after writing her own material on 2008's The Orchard. Typically, however, this is hardly a traditional collection of faith-based songs. Wright does include a medley of old spirituals including "Up Above My Head," and she closes the proceedings with "Amazing Grace." But her idea of gospel is highly eclectic, also encompassing the Gladys Knight & the Pips hit "I've Got to Use My Imagination" and Jimi Hendrix's "In from the Storm," neither of which seem particularly religious, as well as Eric Clapton's "Presence of the Lord." Wright also draws material from a clutch of black female contemporaries and influences including Me'Shell Ndegéocello, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Joan Wasser, and Angélique Kidjo as she ranges from neo-soul to African-styled folk-rock music. The disparate sources are united by Wright's distinctive and powerful alto voice, which anchors the music and provides a stylistic through-line, no matter what the nominal genre. This is an unusually somber type of gospel, as Wright favors moodiness over fervor in her statements of faith. That is especially true at the end, when she presents "Amazing Grace" in an ambient, funereal mood. Listeners should expect to be moved by these performances, but not to be cheered.
by William Ruhlmann
Gospel Medley: I've Got a Feeling/Power Lord/Glory Glory/Up Above My Head/Hold on Just a Little While Longer