Personnel: Gus Berry (guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, wah-wah guitar, piano, tambourine, programming, background vocals); Allen Salmon (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, percussion, background vocals); Danny Rader (acoustic guitar, gut-string guitar, bouzouki, mandola, accordion); J.T. Corenflos (electric guitar, slide guitar); Tom Bukovac (electric guitar); John Hobbs (piano, Hammond b-3 organ); Michael Rhodes (acoustic bass); Nir Z. (drums); Marco Giovino (percussion, bells); Madison Berry (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Ben Fowler.
Recording information: Berrytown Studios; Ocean Way Studios, Nashville.
Photographer: Alyssa Torrech.
Liz Longley's self-titled Sugar Hill debut is the recording that should make the rest of the country aware of what East Coast audiences have known for a while: that she's a savvy singer/songwriter whose work is as well-crafted as it is intimate and direct. The album was originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign whose end result far exceeded her expectations. Recorded in Nashville (where she now lives) at Ocean Way with producer Gus Berry and remixed by Gary Paczosa, the 11-song set was authored almost exclusively by Longley -- save for "This Is Not the End," co-written with a handful of other writers including Shannon Wright. Her cast of top-notch Nashville session players may provide polish, but, if anything, they highlight the kind of discipline and focus Longley displays as a songwriter -- especially when writing a full album of love songs (mostly written in the rearview mirror of a relationship). This meld of contemporary country, folk, Americana, and pop shines in tracks like the opener, with its ringing guitars underscoring the determination of the protagonist to exorcize a former lover from her life. It's not bitter; it's vulnerable but steely in its determination. It's even more militant in "Skin & Bones" with its acoustic mandolins and reverb-laden country-blues vocal juxtaposed against electric guitars and popping, rolling tom-toms. On first single "Bad Habit" there's an irresistible hook in the chorus. The lyrics are direct and searing as she uses a former lover's cigarette smoke as a metaphor for the obsession and longing that remain in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Likewise, album-opener "Outta My Head" revels in the sonic and hook trains some of the best songs on Taylor Swift's Red did. That said, "You've Got That Way," which simultaneously references the elegant country pop of Patsy Cline and early rock & roll crooning (Longley indulges her fine falsetto), complete with a backing chorus and a poignant, subtle B-3, is even better. Its bridge is worthy of Mort Shuman. "Memphis" is a gorgeously sung midtempo ballad that perfectly marries contemporary country to pop/rock. The aforementioned "This Is Not the End," a searing love song with a swelling arrangement, sounds like a second single. The lead guitar fills and breaks add both drama and a sense of transcendence. Lyrically, it depicts the end of a relationship but not love. Longley's self-titled album is assured. "Camaro" rocks hard enough to cross over (à la Fleetwood Mac), with popping snares, roiling guitars, and soaring, passionate vocals; it gets to the emotional tipping point without ever falling over (unlike the only real misstep, the anthemic closer "We Run"). Longley's album is the work of an artist seasoned by hard-won experiences in the recording studio as well as on-stage. There isn't a song here that wouldn't translate with a full band or played solo. ~ Thom Jurek