There's an engaging modesty to Liz Durrett's voice, a breathy instrument which slips from note to note with an unaffected simplicity and casual litheness, that belies its surroundings on her third album, Outside Our Gates. Producer and arranger Eric Bachmann (whose work with Archers of Loaf won't prepare folks for this music) has fashioned a set of pocket-size tone poems around Durrett's melodies, complete with strings, horns, and melodic percussion, and sometimes they're as elegant as Durrett's tunes (such as the small string ensemble that lifts up "We Build Bridges" and the ghostly piano and electric guitars of "Lost Hiker") while other tracks take on a sassy R&B sway ("Wild as Them") or sound almost orchestral in their scope ("All of Them All"). Regardless of the size of the arrangements, Durrett and Bachmann are clever enough not to overpower her songs, which are strong and evocative despite the simplicity of their outward appearance, and the accompanists (who include Durrett's uncle Vic Chesnutt) display an impressive feel for this material, sounding as comfortable with the dissonant clank of "Always Signs" as the lovely choral surroundings of "The Sea a Dream." A few spins of Outside Our Gates leaves no doubt that this is an ambitious piece of work, but a large part of its charm is that it doesn't seem so on first glance -- the arrangements and the recording serve the songs well enough that Outside Our Gates seems to expand and recede at will, never taking up more space than it needs, and the ultimate effect is truly winning. Durrett has crafted something quite impressive with this album, and it's the work of an artist who deserves and demands a wider audience.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming