Album Interview: Lizz Wright: Grace

Rating: ★★★★

Record and Artist Details

Musicians:

Jay Bellerose (d)
Lizz Wright (v)
Kenny Banks Sr (p)
David Pitch (b)
Marvin Sewell (g)

Label:

Concord

October/2017

RecordDate:

date not stated

This sixth studio album from Lizz Wright presents a number of key firsts for the Georgia-born vocalist and songwriter. Most importantly for the album's overall sound, Wright finally gets to record with a gospel choir (assembled from Atlanta's local churches by her pianist and MD, Kenny Banks Sr) on a trio of songs: the exceptionally beautiful title track, the album's first single ‘Seems I'm Never Tired Lovin’ You’ and Ray Charles' ‘What Would I Do’. Having been incredibly moved by the Rose Cousins-penned song ‘Grace’, which Wright's producer Joe Henry played her in the pre-studio listening sessions, this is also the first time Wright has chosen a cover rather than a self-penned song as the title piece. We are, however, treated to the emotive power and warm embrace of her original co-write with Maia Sharp, ‘All The Way Here’, which brings the album to a beatific close. In another first, Wright and photographer Jesse Kitt set out on a road trip through the American South, chronicling Wright's reunions with family members, neighbours and mentors. Photos captured by Kitt will provide the backdrop to Wright's live performances of Grace. Elsewhere, on sublime arrangements of Allen Toussaint's ‘Southern Nights’, the sensuous standard ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’, k.d. lang's ‘Wash Me Clean’ and more, you're reminded again and again that this is a vocalist whose timbral quality alone can touch your very soul.

Jazzwise spoke to Lizz Wright about the album

Can you recall the experience of hearing the title track for the first time?

I said to my producer, Joe Henry, that I think this record is going to be called Grace – at least let that be a working title so that we have the spirit of it the whole while. And he understood that. I thought we were going to write something. He'd just finished working on Rose Cousins' record, I don't even know if it was out yet, and we had our first listening session. When I heard the song I was undone – I thought I can't be clearer, I can't write this, this is it. I just cried, it was really overwhelming.

What was it like to finally get to record with a gospel choir?

It was really wonderful, they're my best friends. My Musical Director, Kenny Banks, put the group together from a few choirs that he knew from across Atlanta. They were beautiful, and it was also fun to be in a choir again. I hadn't been in a large group since I was in high school. It was great to be in a wall of voices again. It was a real coming home, that part of it.

Was there a specific feeling you were trying to create by using the choir?’

This record was made as part of a conversation between Joe and I that grace is very likely the original state for all of us. And we need these thresholds – whether it's church or nature or just doing something for someone – to get back to it. It's an important time to remember that.

What prompted the idea of the road trip with photographer Jesse Kitt?

Some of my favourite people in the world are my neighbours in North Carolina, and of course I adore my family. Following the election, I needed to be in the South, moving around, being with people I knew – and people I didn't know – because I wanted to feel it and hear it for myself. I just wanted to gather up a bouquet of what I know and put it forward as a gesture of affection and a kind of loving rebellion against something that doesn't have deep roots but is always in my face.

There's a real spontaneity to the music-making on Grace. Could you give a little flavour of what it was like creating the album in the studio?

This was definitely the most peaceful, fluid and fast session I've experienced. Joe Henry and I brought together musicians that feel connected to us and connected to our ideals. They were an extension of our friendship and our mutual curiosity.

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