On her fourth studio album, Lizz Wright trains her rich, pitch-perfect alto on a variety of tunes that center on the journey to inner solace, defining the constituents of her “fellowship” not by their gospel roots so much as by their spiritual potential.
Starting with the first lyric of its title track, “Fellowship” dispels any assumptions that its message might be secular, as Wright warns listeners of the inherent danger in believing “that your God is better than another man’s.” Steady and smooth, her voice blends with guest bassist (and the song’s composer), Me’Shell N’Degeocello’s deep and multi-layered space-rock contribution.
Wright has been rightfully lauded as an agile interpreter, and that skill set shines here, as a slowed-down take on Gladys Knight’s self-aware “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” expands the boundaries of gospel, with Wright slowing the tempo, and thereby shifting the focus from the R&B hit’s original, rhythmic pop, to Wright’s proud, luxe delivery. Later, “In From the Storm” gets a blues treatment, with the earthier sounds of a handjive loop and slide guitar filling in for Hendrix’s more tense, electric zeal.
Given her background as a vocalist in her father’s church, though, it’s no surprise that the album’s most memorable moments are also the most traditionally gospel-driven. Stitching together five classic African-American spirituals, Wright’s “Gospel Medley” balances an Odetta-caliber range of emotion with the kind of joyful, melodic belting that put Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the map. Though clearly a student of these looming figures, Wright’s chart-topping new release exudes a controlled, yet wistful grace that is hers alone.
Fellowship: Fellowship; (I’ve Got To Use My) Imagination; I Remember, I Believe; God Specializes; Gospel Medley; Sweeping Through the City; All the Seeds; Presence of the Lord; In From the Storm; Feed the Light; Oya; Amazing Grace.
Personnel: Lizz Wright, vocals, handjive loop; Glen Patscha, keyboards, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Wurlitzers, piano, pump organ; Me’Shell N’Degeocello; Rocky Bryant, drums; Oren Bloedow, guitar; Joan Wasser, violin, background vocals; Nic D’Amato, bass; Alfredo “Catfish” Alias, drums; Robin Macatangay, guitar; Fred Walcott, percussion, shaker; Todd Sickafoose, acoustic bass; Bernice Johnson Reagon, background vocals, arranger; Mimi Jones, acoustic bass; Angelique Kidjo, vocals; Nacho Newsam-Marchak, background vocals.
Ordering info: VerveMusicGroup.com