If any artist can get away with calling an album Real, it's Lydia Loveless -- from her earliest work, her songs have always been smart but utterly fearless in their honesty about what's happening in her head, heart, and soul. 2016's Real is Loveless' fourth album, and it's her most mature and polished bit of studio craft to date. While most of Loveless' music has walked a line between honky tonk country and raucous rock & roll, Real finds taking a few steps back from her twangy roots and embracing a more pop-oriented sound that still puts the emphasis on guitars but boasts a cool sheen that's decidedly different than her sound on Boy Crazy or Somewhere Else. Without sounding like she's compromised herself in the least, Real offers us a Lydia Loveless who could possibly get on the radio with numbers like "Heaven" and "Same to You," songs that could likely connect with fans of Taylor Swift (the former) or Kelly Clarkson (the latter) if they ever heard them. Real is a less raucous and more measured album from Loveless, but a quick scan of the lyrics reveals she's no less bold and passionate than she's ever been, especially as she discusses the clueless creepiness of Midwestern guys, the sometimes untrustworthy call of her own heart, the struggle to find a lover who honestly understands her, and the trickier matter of understanding herself and the world in which she lives. (And old fans shouldn't fret, tracks like "European" and the title cut are still steeped in country influences.) Loveless is a master lyricist, articulate and expressive without seeming forced or hitting a false note, and her vocals on Real are superb, less the work of a belter but still as passionate and eloquent as you could hope for. Anyone who wasn't convinced that Lydia Loveless is a major artist by Somewhere Else should make a point of giving Real a listen -- at her best, she's quite simply as good and as brave a singer and songwriter as anyone working today, and Real finds her at the top of her game.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming