Lizz Wright - The Orchard [Verve Forecast B0010292-02]

Breathing in Home- The Heart of the Orchard

December 2009




Travel with me to the place of my family. Listen with me to the tunes of my people. Dance with me like no one may see. Sing with me like your voice can heal. Pray with me for hope in us to yield peace. Finally, come with me - come home with me.

After listening to vocalist and songwriter Lizz Wright’s The Orchard, I was moved to put pen to paper and write this little poem in order to come to grips with the experience I’d just had. Lizz Wright takes us with her to the places that resonate most near to her heart, on a journey that allows us to travel through the extents and boundaries of self preservation, love, revelations and happiness. Her contemporary jazz, gospel, soul, folk and blues amalgamation stirs a remedy vigilantly complimented with her contralto register and melodic potency that challenges listeners to uncover the most genuine stitches of nature and life.

Wright was born in the small town Hahira, Georgia of two minister parents, one of which sang in church (her mother). This disciplined fruit of music learned about jazz through pianist Marian McPartland’s National Public Radio show Piano Jazz. Wright’s career launched after seemingly solid performances in a Tribute to Billy Holiday tour in 2002 where critics deemed her a “rising star.” In 2003, she released her first album entitled Salt, and in 2005 released a follow-up entitled Dreaming Wide Awake. Both albums comprised of several interpretive tracks where Wright drew from the contributions of famous jazz artists, landing the albums at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts. Now 29 years old, Wright released her third album in February of 2008, The Orchard. She describes this album as being significantly different in both approach and final product compared to her debut and sophomore albums. Those albums focused more on sampling impeccably ripened tunes of various jazz super-musicians, while this one was more of a “thoughtful experiment” as Wright and her team tested the songs live in a club before recording the album.

Wright discusses this experience on her website ( “The Orchard started with a trip that I took home to see my grandparents, and watching how they interacted with their neighbors and friends. It got me thinking about where I was born and grew up, and that really inspired me a lot. - We tried out a lot of arranging ideas and different approaches, and the arrangements changed every night. That was a great process, and it was a challenge to me...  It's the first time I've done that, working through songs live before making a record and learning just how far I could push myself.”

The first song from the album, Coming Home, beautifully acknowledges Wright’s roots in the pastoral South- her home. The acoustic and electric guitars and drums enhance the rich and sultry tone that she uses. It is the perfect inauguration to an album that was originally geared to focus on an “orchard experience” in Georgia. Wright presents a prayer-like conversation that remarkably embraces the graces of a spiritual, “down-home” experience. It is a beautiful display of Wright’s range in combining gospel with soul with blues. It is impossible not to feel the pain she reveals using minor chords throughout the nearly five minute song, yet the joy and comfort she expresses in the security she finds in the confines of her religion are unmistakable. Expressed in these lyrics from Coming Home, it is perhaps the foundation of the album, entirely:

“Your voice comes in the cold wind”
“I can see you through any darkness; your light leads me home”
“Coming home from tomorrow for my dreams of yesterday”

From here, the album picks up on the experimental note, presenting songs that assert the opportunity, pleasure, struggles, and benefits of love. In the songs My Heart, Hey Man, Speak Your Heart, and This Is the acoustic guitar, bass, and drums gross their vitality in elevating the process through which listeners grasp the magnitude of Wright’s compassion in articulating a vast array of emotional feelings in her loving and sometimes mystified world. Wright’s honesty and the depth to which she voyages makes her truth that much more identifiable with listeners.

In My Heart, Wright musically illustrates that “giving factor of love” that appears to be a crucial component of her “lovely truth,” while in Hey Mann (a sample of the song by Sweet Honey in the Rocks), she conveys her presence in a place that has her enmeshed in a complete stage of unexpected admiration. Both tracks have a hazy, corner club feel to them, but individually, they embody the culturally refined devise of a mature artist. Equally as impactful, Speak Your Heart and This Is encompass the acquaintance of a love and lifetime, as Wright describes a love that is “magical… like sunshine” and “everything she wanted.” She again references being “taken home,” or to where she is most comfortable and spiritually free. In Speak Your Heart, Wright explores the heart versus the mind - internal force versus external force.

While other songs like I Idolize You; Another Angel; When I Fall; Leave Me Standing Alone; Song For Mia; Thank You; and a bonus track called Strange mimic the musical brilliancy of the other tracks, through surges of percussion, vibes, drums, keys, piano, pedal steel, trumpets, etc. they leave me less affected for some reason and fail to engulf me in the pleasure of listening as do the other songs. In these songs, the structure of Wright’s university- trained voice deviate me from grasping the soul that she wishes to evoke- unlike the more natural sensation that comes across in the other songs.

Aside from these short-comings, Wright’s courage to allocate an open entrance to the depths of her core as a loving, religious, and strong being is a testament to the radiance of this album as it protrudes with a healing and helpful spirit. The elegance in which she presents the music makes listeners feel as if we are in the studio along side her as she records and explores. Her disclosures of personal experience and philosophy wrap listeners in a setting of Southern hospitality and warmth as she creates equilibrium between pleasure and self-protection in several songs. It leaves me to reflect on the Charles Chestnut quote: “Love has no degrees, it’s all or nothing.”

Lizz Wright’s The Orchard is highly recommended.

Brienna LaCoste