Hard to believe but ‘Real’ is the fourth album from Ohio native Lydia Loveless and she’s still only 25. On previous Bloodshot album releases Loveless has been compared to country and rock royalty in Loretta Lynn and Stevie Nicks alongside highly influential alt-rock pioneers The Replacements (needless to say with The Replacements name checked there are guitars on this record...actually that should read...there are GUITARS on this record). The album was recorded close to home at Sonic Lounge Studios in Columbus, Ohio with Joe Viers (Dr John, Twenty One Pilots) her regular producer and the result is a very fine record indeed.
The first single / video from ‘Real’ is the quite wonderful ‘Longer’ with a guitar intro borrowed from Elliot Easton circa 1978. This is a great pop song which incorporates elements of that trademark The Cars guitar sound with just a little added twang. It wasn’t what I was expecting and that’s one of the many strengths of the album as it wilfully ignores any genre stereotyping so pop songs can sit happily next to harder edged guitar driven material.
Opener ‘Same To You’ is just fantastic with the rhythm section of Ben Lamb (bass) and drummer George Hondroulis both inventive and rock steady as the multiple guitars ring, bite and chime while Loveless adds a strikingly powerful vocal full of expression. The backing vocals from guitarist Todd May are a nice touch that help to make this this a classic opening statement of intent. The aforementioned ‘Longer’ follows before ‘More Than Ever’ takes things down a notch or two as a frustrated Loveless faces up to a relationship in, what could prove to be, terminal decline. Loveless really is a great singer with range and the ability to convey emotion, at one point during ‘More Than Ever’ she sounds positively bereft. Those comparisons to Lynn and Nicks put her in good company and I’d add Cyndi Lauper (both artists have that special catch in their voices) to the mix.
The ability to ignore genres really comes to the fore with ‘Heaven’ which is, to all intents and purposes, a dance track. The chopping guitars, pumping bass and scratching/ bubbling keyboard sounds are closer to Nile Rodgers than any Wilco or Whiskeytown record and it works. The use of acoustic guitar, especially during the breakdown, helps to tie ‘Heaven’ into the rest of the album. The dark and brooding ‘Out Of Love’ all pulsating keys and chiming guitars rounds out side one (vinyl junkies) of ‘Real’ with a terrific vocal that brings home those Stevie Nicks comparisons.
Side two (yep I still seem to have a vinyl thing going on here) doesn’t let things slide with a nice mix of material that includes ‘Midwestern Guys’ which has Loveless sounding musically like, a very pissed off, Tom Petty and features possibly the first ever Def Leppard sexual reference on an alt-country album. The melancholy ‘Bilbao’ seems to (the beauty of the best songs is that they are open to our interpretation) deal with some of the issues of self-worth that Loveless has talked about recently while the quite brilliant ‘European’ manages to walk a tightrope of bouncy rhythmic instrumentation (the drum track and guitars are just so great here) while the lyrics seem to be painting a darker picture. The naked singer-songwriter in Loveless steps up to the mic for the stripped back and oddly titled, but nicely explained, ‘Clumps’ and this approach is as equally effective as the more produced band tracks on the record. The album concludes with the title track and the pedal steel work of guitarist Jay Gasper is pushed to the fore and he does more than hold his own alongside a solid wall of guitars and a pounding rhythm section.
With ‘Real’ Lydia Loveless has a seriously impressive album on her hands. It’s refreshing to see an artist unafraid to push the boundaries and deliver a record that I will be returning to often. ‘Real’ is a rollercoaster and you‘ll never be sure what might be around the next corner so I urge you to give Lydia Loveless and 'Real' a go.