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Lydia Loveless

Real – 2016 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Lydia Loveless

There are certain parallels between Lydia Loveless and kd lang; brilliantly and beautifully expressive voices, great writers and performers and just enough twang to be considered country, but far enough outside the mainstream to be largely rejected by the genre's star making machinery. But where lang made her country bones by shifting from cow punk to a traditionally torchy gear and working with icon Owen Bradley and then succeeded on her own terms, Loveless has evolved within the indie country rock framework she established early on with an eye toward succeeding the same way.

Loveless' debut, 2010's "The Only Man," displayed the sonic trappings of country, folk and bluegrass, but infused them with her then-15-year-old attitudinal punk spirit. Since then, Loveless has ramped up her indie rock energy while maintaining her lyrical focus on love-gone-wrong/good-love-waits-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop songs. On "Real," her third Bloodshot release and fourth full length overall, Loveless, her bassist/husband Ben Lamb and her crack band unleash their most powerful blend of indie rock heart and country soul to date.

Once again, Loveless applies her rafter-dusting, torch-tinted voice to a flawless set of love-and-not-so-love songs while expanding her sonic palette beyond the tough Americana/roots sound of 2011's honky tonk-fueled "Indestructible Machine" and 2014's rockier "Somewhere Else." With "Real," Loveless has found the incredible nexus where all her musical gifts and influences shine without unnecessary polishing.

The album kicks off with the moody quiver of "Same to You," propelled by a guitar sound that could have been pulled from mid-period R.E.M., then follows with "Longer," a classic break-up country/pop song that hints at Neko Case fronting The Cars. Loveless' boundless range shows up when she channels her inner kd lang on the quietly compelling "More Than Ever," then ventures into '80s soul/pop territory with the brutal lyrical honesty of the deceptively titled "Heaven."

Loveless thankfully lacks the gene that would allow her to compromise her artistic integrity to achieve commercial success, and "Real" is the rock solid proof that such compromise is completely unnecessary.