Today’s Top 7: Lydia Luce

One-time orchestra nerd-turned-folkie Lydia Luce’s latest single, “Cosmic Flower,” is a compelling listen, with a lilting melody that’s buttressed by strings and her velvety vocals. It reminds me somewhat of the classic country-folk spins of yore that added orchestral accents and umlauts to the goings-on, while the lyrics paint a slightly surreal scene: “Today the trees are weightless, and I am close behind/No strings fly between me and the sky/Don’t you be surprised if you see us walking on the waves/I am always going to find my way to you.” It’s short, two minutes and change, yet feels as expansive and involving as an album side. It has a timeless feel. 

It’s an unfair comparison, I suppose, but it reminds me to an extent of Jimmy Webb’s sides with Glen Campbell. The same holds true for Luce’s previous single, “Yellow Dawn,” which is similarly lush and compelling; the lyrics wrap the struggle to overcome life’s uncertainties and adversities into a smart metaphor. The strength of a song isn’t found in its production, however, but the lyrics and melody. As way of an example, the video for it was filmed live on a beach and sports a Peter, Paul & Mary vibe; in fact, her vocals—here, there and everywhere—remind me of Mary Travers’ dulcet tone at times.

Both songs, from what I gather, are slated to appear on a forthcoming EP, titled Garden Songs, from the South Florida-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who first appeared on my radar late last winter with her sophomore album, Dark River. I liked it a fair bit and considered spotlighting it, but the production seemed stilted in spots so I ultimately gave it a pass. (Mine is a weekend endeavor, after all, so I tend to run with things I really, really like.)

By way of an example, here’s the title track:  

Several songs from that set worked much better live, as evidenced by her OurVinyl session:

Of course, I may not have been in the proper headspace for Dark River; when I listen to it now, my quibbles seem overstated and misguided (though I still prefer the OurVinyl session). That said, delving deeper into her oeuvre unearths many other gems, including a song she wrote long ago for her brother and his future wife as a wedding gift…

…and her rendition of the Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Early Mornin’ Rain,” which was covered by a slew of folk stalwarts in the mid-1960s, including Ian & Sylvia and—in the version I know best—Peter, Paul & Mary. This hails from her 2019 EP, Love Is a Trophy.

Another highlight: Her 2018 Live in the Van clips, which conjure Shawn Colvin circa Steady On. This live rendition of “Sausalito” is worth a few repeated plays, as are the songs (“Helen” and “Azalea”) that follow.

What’s cool about YouTube and the endless catalogs found on the streaming services is that one can easily chart the development of almost every music artist, be they veterans or just starting out. What’s evident to me is that, early on, Luce was in the process of becoming. Her latest singles indicate, however, that her original journey has come to an end and a new trek has just begun. She reminds me in many ways of Courtney Marie Andrews, who, after fits and starts, found her voice with Honest Life. She’s an artist worth watching.

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