Real art is personal, close to the bone, unshakable and undeniable. Stranger Me slices throats and raises the black flag. If you've followed Amy LaVere's career you're aware of her formidable background. Memphis luminary Jim Dickinson produced LaVere's Anchors & Anvils. Recently, LaVere revealed this about the late Dickinson: "He was the one who really got me to believe in my own voice."
The death of Dickinson, her break-up with longtime lover/drummer Paul Taylor and departure of guitarist Steve Selvidge left LaVere at a crossroads. LaVere conveys first class pain, love, venom and soul in these memorable songs. LaVere recruited Craig Smiley to produce Stranger Me--a musical departure from her previous releases. These 11 songs showcase LaVere's new band. Two key members, multi-instrumentalist Rick Steff (Lucinda Williams, Cat Power & Lucero) and guitarist David Cousar (Jim Dickinson, Willie Mitchell & Al Green) lend a wide-range of expertise on these sessions.
The scathing "Damn Love Song" opens Stranger Me with an eerie battle-march drone. She sings, "Right now, I'll do it right now/Here's your damn love song/And don't it say it all." A warning hiss, indeed. "You Can't Keep Me" treads towards pop waters, and she sings "I'm gonna break this chain you got around my neck." One must admire the vengeance in the lyrical sentiment of this tune.
LaVere uses more horns on Stranger Me than past recordings, which provide a lush quality to the overall sonic landscape. At times, the embellishments are a bit thick. Kristi Witt's hypnotic "Red Banks" serves as one of the sapphires on Stranger Me. This number carries real spook, true rock & roll grit and meat hook truths regarding an evil lover. "Great Divide", an upbeat R & B-funk number, allows this ensemble of musicians to travel another melodic path.
LaVere's inspiring voice sounds quite convincing on "Often Happens", and her honest lyrics linger for anyone whose ever been in the singer's position. LaVere is one of the few songwriters who could pull off Jimbo Mathus' "Lucky Boy" by delivering a dark message with such a sweet voice...
The title track employs a new sound from LaVere. "Stranger Me" contends as one of the most revealing and vivid songs she's ever written. "Candle Mambo", a Captain Beefheart cover, exists as a fine and strange love song. LaVere always renders interesting cover tunes by artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Kristi Witt and now Beefheart. "Cry My Eyes Out" emerges as a sad, subterranean dirge where she sings "It's a dark highway/And I feel like a wreck."
This album ends with the soulful, sultry and tempting "Come On". These compositions mark a changing of the guards in LaVere's career.
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