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Dreaming Wide Awake by Lizz Wright

One of the more memorable debut albums of recent years was Lizz Wright's 2003 Verve release Salt. The follow-up CD, Dreaming Wide Awake, builds on the promise of that earlier recording and, at its best, demonstrates artistic growth on the part of the neo-soul vocalist. Though the strong rhythm and blues element that made the earlier disc stand out has been somewhat toned down in places by an adult pop approach, Dreaming Wide Awake is nonetheless a fine record to play when lights are low.

What makes Wright such an appealing performer both on Salt as well as live in concert is her unique blend of gospel, r&b, jazz and delta blues. Here, Wright's brew is particularly potent on the sultry, Howlin' Wolf-inspired reading of "A Taste of Honey" that opens the disc. She breathes new life into a number of old familiar tunes, including a pretty version of the summer of love anthem "Get Together" that really draws out its latent gospel elements (and surely it is no coincidence that these two cuts along with the lovely title track feature Bill Frisell on 2nd guitar). Neil Young's "Old Man" is also effectively rendered, sounding as though it could have been recorded on a country stoop on a clear fall night. Lizz shows a beautiful ballad touch with her version of "Wake Up, Little Sparrow" and the titular song of her own composing, a wistful number somewhat in the Harold Arlen mode. Less successful are the obviously pop tracks such as "Hit the Ground," co-penned with Jesse Harris and Toshi Reagon, which seem designed to appeal to the type of fans who made Norah Jones a household name.

On Dreaming Wide Awake Wright's prodigious vocal range is mostly reigned in to match the sultry mood of the songs. Though we do see glimpses of her full abilities scattered here and there, the overall and refreshing effect is that of an artist putting the needs of her songs ahead of those of their ego. Though a smattering of the fare on this album is too commercial for my tastes, the overall effect of Dreaming Wide Awake is quite seductive. Two steps forward and one step back still comes out to one step forward.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lizz Wright
  • CD Title: Dreaming Wide Awake
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Verve
  • Rating: Three Stars
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