The Georgia-born singer returned to her roots with a memorable and joyous set
By John Fordham for The Guardian
Lizz Wright, the serenely radiant Georgia-born singer, often still exhibits the jazz-honed cool that spurred comparisons to Norah Jones early in her career – but the songs on last year’s album Grace marked an unequivocal return to her southern roots, simmering with midnight heat and the cadences of gospel music. At this gig, she showcased some of that repertoire, alongside revisits to personal landmarks from the past 15 years of her slow-burning but unswerving career.
Wright arrived on stage to casually cruise into the pulsing vamp set up by a workmanlike quartet including gospel-funky organist Bobby Sparks, and rock-rooted guitarist Chris Bruce. She was soon unfurling her signature blend of sonorously soulful intimacy and rising exhortation over swelling crescendos, delivering Neil Young’s “Old Man” in her spellbindingly deep-toned, revelatory manner that wound up to a wailing finale for Bruce’s guitar, and letting her velvety long notes invoke the quiet passions of kd lang’s “Wash Me Clean.”
“Somewhere Down the Mystic” (from 2015’s Freedom & Surrender) alternated reflective wonderment and an anthemic, mallet-thundering roar; Sparks uncorked an ecstatically holy-rolling solo on the gospel anthem “Walk With Me Lord” before its softly expectant coda; Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” was languid and luxuriously sensual. In the later stages of a memorable set, only hampered by her muscular band’s inclination to roll over her subtle timbres, Wright increasingly revealed her character, curiosity and heart – most hauntingly in the search for solace of the Rose Cousins song, “Grace.” She didn’t forget to send her awed audience home rocking though, in a joyously boogieing encore.