Hello Stranger from Issue #58
We wrestled quite a bit with this issue’s cover choice, more than we usually do. Certainly there were obvious potential candidates to choose from, as the artists who populate the record-reviews section will attest. No doubt some would have simply assumed we’d go for one of those acts that seem to have the hallmarks of alt-countrydom plastered across their career resumes. And who knows, maybe we should have gone that way.
The thing is, though, the more Grant and I kept listening to the music in front of us, the more we kept getting drawn in by the same record. And it wasn’t the one by the actor in the that, or the one by the reunited semi-legends, or the one by the garage sensations. No, this record was made by a young jazz singer with whom we were previously almost entirely unfamiliar.
And yet, if you listen to Dreaming Wide Awake, you can’t help but hear it, know it, feel it — that natural magic in Lizz Wright’s voice. As it turns out, she’s hardly an unknown, having sold more copies of her debut disc than plenty of artists we’ve featured on our cover. If she’s less-recognized among our purported audience, well then, all the better for us to rectify that as thoroughly as possible.
There is a sense, as a publication such as ours reaches a certain modicum of success (as we’ve worked hard to achieve over the past decade), that sometimes the endeavor becomes more about definitively documenting the long-established artists than about introducing the promising newer ones. Ideally we seek to strike a balance between those objectives; for every John Prine or Loretta Lynn or Dave Alvin we’ve had on our cover, we’ve devoted plenty of attention inside to the likes of Kathleen Edwards or Elizabeth Cook or Iron & Wine. And certainly we’re still quite willing to stick our neck out with the cover as well, when we feel the artist warrants it (witness Mary Gauthier on this year’s January-February issue).
Choosing Lizz Wright might be another example of such bold assertiveness, but the more I listen to Dreaming Wide Awake, the less I tend to thing that’s the case here. This record is just too good to deny, too great in both its artistic achievement and its potential mass appeal to feel like we’re really taking much of a risk with this one.
Unless, of course, it’s considered risky for No Depression to venture this far “out of category,” as it were. Not that we haven’t done it before; certainly the Little Miss Cornshucks cover in 2003 demonstrated our willingness to venture into jazz-singer territory (though that was of course a historical rather than contemporary exploration). And it’s not like Lizz Wright has no foothold in our foundation; her new disc includes covers of songs by Joe Henry and Neil Young, and features contributions by Bill Frisell, all of whom have been written about repeatedly in these pages over the years.
But is she country? Well, no. Is she even alternative-country? I sure wouldn’t wanna be the one trying to make that case, either. No matter: Her music absolutely does relate to the American musical landscape upon which this magazine has long been based, and for which we have gradually expanded over the years to encompass and accommodate. I would have to confess — or, more to the point, contend — that No Depression, today, is no more (or less) “alt-country” than is Lizz Wright’s music.
And that’s just fine with us. What we aspire to, instead, is simply to be as good at what we do as Wright is at what she does. If we succeed in that effort, then you’ll really be holding something worth reading, for many years to come.