Lucy Woodward is a soulful, throaty singer whose eclectic sound has found her touching upon a mix of radio-friendly roots rock, torchy jazz, and '60s Brill Building-style pop. On her fourth studio album, 2016's Til They Bang on the Door, she moves away from the urbane jazz and Baroque soundscape of 2010's Hooked!, and digs into an earthy blues and R&B vibe. Helping Woodward this time out is Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League, who co-produced the album along with Hooked! producer Henry Hey. Together, League and Hey (both of whom also play on the album) put Woodward's voice front and center, framing her in an organic mix of guitars, horns, drums, and keyboards, including at various times, Snarky Puppy's guitarist Chris McQueen, organist Cory Henry, and saxophonist Chris Bullock. The result is an album that, while layered with deft horn and string arrangements, often sounds as if it were recorded live. On past albums, Woodward struck a balance between using the highly resonant, gritty end of her vocal range and the more lyrical, velvety end. Here, while there is also a balance, Woodward leans heavily toward the grit, delving headlong into cuts like the noir-ish R&B of "Ladykiller" and her bluesy, kinetic reading of the Nina Simone number "Be My Husband." Elsewhere, Woodward splits the difference between old-school and contemporary influences with cuts like "Kiss Me Mister Histrionics," which sounds like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings covering a Bruno Mars song, and "Live Live Live," which sounds tantalizingly like Janelle Monae backed by a Bobby McFerrin-led a cappella ensemble. One gets the sense that ever since her more pop-oriented debut, 2003's While You Can, Woodward has pushed to incorporate more of her jazz, blues, and R&B influences. Thankfully, with League and Hey having her back, Woodward is able ignore standard pop expectations and completely go with her instincts.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar