Pula Theatre 26.07.2018
Written by Hannah Smith
Pictures by David Gasson
Following a long tradition of musicians drawing inspiration from the spiritual and cultural qualities of the American South, Georgia-born singer, Lizz Wright’s latest performance reflected the kind of strength often present within gospel music.
The acclaimed vocalist and steward of American music has a reputation for bringing brilliant colour and vibrancy to original works and compositions by some of the greatest songwriters of our time. Wright has garnered widespread attention as one of the most venerable popular singers of her generation through the release of six critically acclaimed albums. Lizz’s latest album, Grace, nine covers plus one original, spans musical genres and eras but contains continuity by its sense of place. Although recorded soon after last years presidential election, ‘Grace’ manages to avoid politics, highlighting the intimate connections that music can afford and which can bind humanity.
Over 70 songs were collected by close friend and producer, Joe Henry, for Wright to cover. She went on to select those she felt best represented her own past and present. After taking time out during the making of this latest album, Lizz took a road trip through the rural South and reacquainted herself with the people and places from which she came from. The result is a 10 track album that blends contemporary and traditional spirituals with reworked originals from artists such as Ray Charles and KD Lang.
The Istrian National Theatre in Pula , Croatia saw Lizz showcase her most recent album as part of the cities Backstage Live festival and included the opportunity for her to revisit personal favourites from her 15 year career in music.
Joined on stage by a four piece band, Lizz opened the night with her rendition of ‘Barley’, a hymn of strength written by the up and coming band, Bird Of Chicago. The captivated audience delighted in Lizz’s spellbindingly deep-toned vocals and the welcome groove that underscores the track. Sister Rosetta Thorpe’s ‘Singing In My Soul’ was done justice by Wright’s ability to add Southern elegance to the music, making any song her own. A breathtaking interpretation of ‘Seems I’m Never Too Tired Lovin’ You’, a track memorably performed by Nina Simone, saw Wright bring dignity to a song that hints of desire and desperation and transform it into an anthem of a love that can weather any storm, determined and intimate.
A drifting, slow-downed version of Allen Toussaint’s ‘Southern Nights’ had an almost surreal quality to it, while Bob Dylan’s ‘Every Grain Of Sand’ captured the resilience which nestles deep within Southern culture. The album’s sole original composition, ‘All The Way Here’, a collaboration with Maia Sharp, shares the story of a traveller, returning to her roots, weary yet stronger for what she’s experienced on her journey. This track is clearly inspired by Wrights own travels and growth suggesting that the singer has found herself, a sentiment that is reinforced by the entire album.
The spiritual and sensual, which are ever present in the vocalist’s music, brought a soulful intimacy to the nights performance and proved that Lizz Wright’s talent is both divine and enduring. The Grace tour continues across the United States before returning to Europe in early 2019.