It’s Grace, a popular word with album titles these days, surely we all need a whole lot of that rare quality, new from singer Lizz Wright, above, celebrating her Southern United States spiritual heritage and much more confirmed for 15 September. 

A studio album produced by Joe Henry, who has been touring recently in the UK and Ireland with Billy Bragg, last we heard from the acclaimed Georgia-born gospel, soul and jazz singer was in 2015 when she duetted with Gregory Porter on the Larry Klein-produced “love slow jam” ‘Right Where You Are,’ a stand out track on Freedom & Surrender, her first album in five years. The Joe Henry connection is interesting as Lizz on her best album to date 2005’s Dreaming Wide Awake memorably covered Henry song ‘Stop’ and he is certainly a very different, more Americana-rooted, producer to Klein. 

The new album, cover above, was recorded in Los Angeles. Pianist and choir director Kenny Banks Sr, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, guitarists Chris Bruce and Marvin Sewell, drummer Jay Bellerose, and keyboardist Patrick Warren join the singer among the personnel. Songs include numbers by Ray Charles (‘What Would I Do’), Allen Toussaint (‘Southern Nights’), Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (‘Singing in My Soul’), k.d. lang, Bob Dylan (‘Every Grain of Sand’), Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish covers opening with ‘Barley,’ by Birds of Chicago, and closing with Lizz Wright’s co-written song ‘All the Way Here’ written with Maia Sharp who she also worked with on Freedom and Surrender.

“In this day it’s nearly a revolutionary act to stand deep in unconditional love, to abide in fearless belonging and to embrace our inescapable tenderness,” Wright says, quoted on a press release issued by her label Concord.
Listening excerpt, link.

Listen above to the most talked about track so far from A Kind Revolution, just out from Paul Weller. Madeline Bell is on the album as a backing singer, Robert Wyatt also guests. (What’s not to like?) I am definitely a new-ish fan of hers since Singer: The Musical and Weller of course on and off since The Jam but only recently liking the Style Council which I never got at the time (he is one of the enduring musical greats beyond genre stating the bleedin’ obvious). I interviewed her back in 2015 just before she was doing a Ray Charles-themed big band show.

Singing since her teenage years in Newark, New Jersey Madeline toured with the musical Black Nativity eventually making her home in Britain and going on to become a backing singer for Dusty Springfield, later seizing the spotlight herself and having hits with the likes of ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’.

PP Arnold, above left, also a backing singer on the album, Weller, Madeline Bell. Pic via Twitter

We talked about Ray Charles that time for the interview published in londonjazznews.com and how she saw herself as a singer refusing categorisation. What matters is she is still singing incredibly well as you can hear on this brand new album which is picking up a lot of positive feedback whether as a backing singer or in the spotlight herself.

“When I arrived in the UK as a cast member of Black Nativity in 1962 I was a gospel singer, I knew nothing else. When I returned having signed with EMI in September 1963 I became ‘a pop singer,” she told me. “Then I worked for many years in London’s recording studios where I had to learn and sing backing vocals, lead vocals, harmonies, how to sing in different languages and styles, and discipline. I worked the clubs throughout the UK as a cabaret artiste. Then in 1987 Mr Ronnie Scott and Mr Pete King convinced me that it was time for me to step into jazz. They told me ‘you belong in Ronnie’s.’

That’s when I became a jazz singer. I was doubtful, they were sure... I don’t try to sound or sing like any of my heroes. I was reminded in my early solo recording days that the world doesn’t need or want another Aretha Franklin, who was unknowingly singing jazz straight out of church. I love all styles, from Aretha to Amy Winehouse.”