Throughout her almost 20 years of performing, vocalist Lizz Wright has brought her sorghum-toned voice to modern R&B with nuances of her church upbringing. But on this performance which focused on material from her latest album Grace, she has stripped away all weights of the world, delivering an evening with pianist Kenny Banks Sr. and emphasizing her spiritual and Southern roots with a 90 minute set that put the “soul” back into Soul Music.
Opening with standards such as “The Nearness of You” as well as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald including “Love You Madly” and “Give Me the Simple Life,” Wright combined with Banks’ playful stride and swing to create a musical Balm in Gilead to these warm chestnuts.
Her solo aria opening to “Barley” reached to American music’s earthy roots, with references to both field hollers and gospel shouts as the audience spontaneously joined with a rhythmic clap support. Her sepia toned read of “Old Man” brought the lyrics to a back road rural setting, whereas Banks supplied gentle stream ripples of notes and Ms. Wright hovered over the tune of “Mystic” like a morning fog.
Old time spirituals such as “Walk With Me” and the peppy “Singing in My Soul” gave the theatre a Sunday Morning joy, while on the emotive “Grace,” Wright sang with the deep conviction of a pilgrim, as if she were allowing you to join with her in her private prayer closet.
She glowed like a harvest moon on “Stars Fell On Alabama,” and with a nod to the recently departed Tom Petty, her “Free Falling” mixed with “Coming Home” made you feel that she could recite Craig’s List and make it sound like a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
It’s a rare treat that an album that is destined for Vocal Album of the Year is delivered in what may have been the Concert of the Year. If you grew up in the church, Ms Wright performance reached your inner marrow, and if you didn’t, she hopefully woke something up something that needed to be stirred.