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Dream Wide awake: Lizz wright
by Mike Heyliger
Lizz Wright’s music is perfect for those warm
Sunday afternoons when you’re sitting out
on the porch with a glass of cold iced tea
and letting the weight of the world slide
right off your shoulders. The Atlanta native’s
2003 debut, “Salt”, cast her as a new player
on the jazz vocals scene. It quietly became
one of the most successful albums of the
year on Billboard’s Jazz Chart.
Two years later, Wright’s sophomore effort, “Dreaming Wide Awake”,
is more of the same. The luxurious arrangements encompass a
jazz/folk hybrid not unlike Norah Jones, while her rich, deep vocal
tones call to mind Cassandra Wilson and Oleta Adams. The album is
an interesting selection of originals and well-chosen covers that
should firmly establish Wright as one of the hot new wave of vocalists
that has followed in the wake of acts like Jones and Diana Krall.

I’m sure Wright knows that the comparisons to Norah are there.
However, she’s obviously secure enough to hire Jesse Harris, the
man who composed Norah’s breakout hit “Don’t Know Why”, to
contribute to the album. “Hit The Ground” boasts a sumptuous, jazzy
arrangement that can be compared favorably to-yes-Norah Jones.
“Chasing Strange” offers an easygoing, adult contemporary-style
arrangement. It’s one of two songs co-written by Chocolate Genius, a
performer most recently heard on the last Sweetback album.

Wright also has a way with interpreting previously established songs.
She takes rock legend Neil Young’s “Old Man” and gives the country-
rock song a subtle rearrangement. She also takes “Stop”, from singer-
songwriter Joe Henry (probably best known as Madonna’s brother-in-
law), and adds a vaguely samba-styled arrangement to the dark
lament. I’m only familiar with The Youngbloods’ 60’s anthem “Get
Together” from a Garth Brooks remake a few years back, but she
gives an expressive, soulful performance on her version of this
socially conscious tune, as relevant today as it was nearly forty years

Producer Craig Street (who’s also worked with Cassandra Wilson and
Me’shell Ndegeocello) keeps things simple here. The light production
touch he offers contrasts beautifully with Lizz’s heavy vocal tones.
Songs like “Wake Up, Little Sparrow” are airy and feather-like, but
Lizz’s voice provides a grounding of sorts-in a good way.

The days of the jazz/soul vocalist have faded somewhat since the
heyday of Phyllis Hyman and Rachelle Ferrell. Lizz Wright mines
slightly more rootsy territory, but her voice definitely has the same
effect. For a collection of soothing tunes to satisfy your jazz vocals
jones, look no further than “Dreaming Wide Awake”.

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