| Fire can be a force of destruction – a lesson that vocalist Michelle Lordi learned all too well when flames consumed her Philadelphia-area home and all of her earthly possessions on the day after Christmas, 2017. But as she’s realized in the sometimes tragic, often inspiring aftermath, fire can also provide an opportunity for renewal. On her third album, Break Up With the Sound, Lordi seizes that opportunity, embarking on a new direction with a genre-warping repertoire, a stunning all-star band, and, for the first time, soul-baring original songs.|
Lordi’s previous releases have situated her firmly within the jazz vocal tradition, largely drawing on Songbook standards played by gifted soloists. Break Up With the Sound does just as its title implies though – delineates a clean break with the past, reaching into the more daring influences that she’d long suppressed in her own music.
To join her on this adventurous path she assembled a band of stellar musicians, each of whom has explored similar terrain in their own distinctive ways: saxophonist Donny McCaslin (David Bowie’s Blackstar), drummer Rudy Royston (Bill Frisell, Rudresh Mahanthappa), guitarist and electronic musician Tim Motzer (Ursula Rucker, Kurt Rosenwinkel, King Britt) and bassist/producer Matthew Parrish (Freddy Cole, Stefon Harris).
The album’s title is drawn from the lyrics to “Poor Bird,” an answer song that Lordi wrote to Hank Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”–which she also essays here, in a haunting but steely rendition swathed in Motzer’s keening guitar tone. “Break up with the sound,” she sings to William’s lonesome whippoorwill, who sounds too blue to fly. “The one that brought you down has gone away.” It’s a warning to the songbird to not become too enamored with the beauty of its own sadness, to rise and soar again.
“I’ve spent precious time lost in my own sadness,” Lordi says. “It is time to move on.”
Luring the jazz listener in with Parrish’s sultry bass solo, “Loverman” provides a bridge from the singer’s musically conservative past to her originative present. It’s the type of song she would have performed on countless stages to traditional jazz audiences, but as McCaslin’s probing tenor and Motzer’s wiry guitar enter, it’s clear that she’s completely reimagined her take on the tune. The same applies to Cole Porter’s “True Love,” which she transforms into a loping, sepia-toned reverie, and The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” which has a raw emotionality that gives new grasp on the sobering lyrics
With “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Lordi reaches into a different songbook, one that might feel alien to her audiences but certainly not to her. “I spent all my childhood summers in Tidewater, VA and the only music I could pick up on my grandmother’s radio was an AM country station. Hank Williams and Patsy Cline taught me to sing.” That fact is evident in the deep connection she forges with Williams’ lonely soul, the restless wanderer of “The Wayward Wind”.
The rest of Break Up With the Sound consists of Lordi’s original songs, the album’s most daunting but important venture. Among the countless possessions lost in that devastating fire were lyrics, poems photography and artwork that Lordi had been creating since her teenage years but had never had the courage to share. Rather than being discouraged by the loss, she felt emboldened. “I was afraid to sing my own songs and share my visual art,” she says. “Then it was gone- and I had to decide if it is really important to who I am or not to create. I chose creating over being gutted by the loss of what I already made”
Embracing possibility is at the heart of sinisterly sexy “Double-crossed,” which Lordi co-wrote with Motzer and which features an exhilarating turn from McCaslin, who has traced his own path from more conventional jazz to the blend of indie rock and electronic music that so enticed an iconoclast like David Bowie. The idyllic “Before” makes peace with change, sparking a rousing solo by Motzer. The aforementioned “Poor Bird” was penned with Parrish, a longtime collaborator who Lordi says is crucial to her music. “He helps me find the center of every song,” she says of the bassist, who also produced the session. “He’s a dream collaborator and bassist for a vocalist.”
Royston’s whisper-soft, evocative rhythms provided the key to “Red House Blues,” a wistful lullaby about a home that only exists in the imagination. “It’s an odd time blues and nobody was getting it,” she recalls. “We were struggling in rehearsal and about to scrap the song when I looked at Rudy and said “this blues is a lullaby” and all of a sudden, Rudy transformed that extra beat into the squeak of a wooden rocking chair as you lean way back while rocking a child (and yourself) to sleep… and the song took form. “Rudy has this amazing ability to set a space with his playing that you can see and feel.”
There are indelible images and landscapes evoked throughout the album, conjured both sonically and visually by an expert and imaginative band, Lordi’s raw and stunning artwork that graces the CD, and Lordi herself- a beautiful and engaging voice with an intuitive ability to cut the core of a lyric, to tell an unadorned but deeply emotional story. She carries that gift into daring new territory on Break Up With the Sound, preserving the most important elements from the ashes of her past.
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NYC RECORD RELEASE PARTY for /BREAK UP WITH THE SOUND/
Matthew Parrish- bass
Rudy Royston- drums
with the Matthew Parrish trio
Philadelphia record release party for //BREAK UP WITH THE SOUND//