Country music’s new gay poster gal, Chely Wright holds back in ‘Lifted’
2.5 out of 5 stars
LIFTED OFF THE GROUND
Chely Wright may be the only star — certainly the only one country music has seen — whose coming out was also a blatant career move. She announced she was gay mere days before her CD, Lifted Off the Ground, and autobiography, Like Me, dropped in stores and online across the nation. Now, she’s on everyone’s gaydar.
Her book might reveal her inner turmoil, but her CD deserves to be looked and listened over with microscopic attention. The album has some worthy songs, but it doesn’t need such intense exploration.
Wright goes for a folksier sound compared to her more familiar pop-country material. Instead of belting out in each song with "I’m a lesbian" pride, she writes as if letting her heart speak for the first time in quiet baby steps. The album is mostly languid and thoughtful, though sometimes overly so. Wright must have figured a serious album should accompany her new public identity, but gives 11 songs of heavy-handed emotion. Where’s the rollicking boot-scootin’ anthem her country fans wanna hear?
"Broken" opens the album as a letter to her lover. Her damaged relationship gives quick opportunity to hear Wright sing to her girlfriend despite the lack of gender specificity.
The song is a precursor of what’s to come, calling to mind the easiness of Bonnie Raitt’s "Nick of Time" but with a less optimistic viewpoint. "Broken" sets a strange amount of pain against an ironically nice tempo. The sound continues on the second track, "Heavenly Days," which sounds melodically identical to "Broken."
After the third straight too-mellow track, "Hang Out In Your Heart," we finally get to hear Wright cut loose a bit — only it’s on the macabre side.
In "Notes to the Coroner," she goes upbeat singing about suicide. You’ll wanna take my blood to smear on a slide / But if you just read on you’ll know how I died are bold lyrics that don’t give the song a sympathetic tone. That’s fine artistically, but it’s akin to reading a suicide letter firsthand. Wright might have trumped Kurt Cobain in one of his darker moments. The pop tone makes it too creepy.
She returns to the land of somber after "Notes," but at this point, her lack of affection toward a woman is noticeably absent —still. In the intimate "Like Me," the song’s delicacy plays as if written by candlelight and we get a possible glimpse of Wright’s affection. She asks Who’s gonna end up holdin’ your hand?/ A beautiful woman or a tall handsome man? to the person she’s in love with. Yes, we know it’s a woman, but is she holding back for commercialism’s sake?
Wright is positioned in an interesting spot. Her reluctance to be all Rosie, while understandable, goes against the hubbub surrounding her outing. Now that she is out, it gives the listener a curiosity to hear what’s on her mind … a curiosity that is never satisfied. Instead, she flirts with lyrics abstractly and ends up confusing and ultimately anticlimactic.
The album, if not great, is far from bad. Lifted is a mood album suitable for a rainy day. It even ends on a dirge-type note with "Shadows of Doubt." Fans of Wright may be disappointed by her change in tone and the inevitable new gay fans will embrace her — but not for this.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 14, 2010.