Some of the most interesting singers on the scene came to performance at midlife, after building non-musical careers and/or families: artists like Gail Pettis, René Marie, and Judy Wexler. Philadelphia’s Michelle Lordi is a similarly late bloomer, and after three disparate albums she continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Break Up with the Sound is a mesmerizing alt-country jazz dreamscape crafted with the texturally ingenious drummer Rudy Royston; brilliant Philly guitarist Tim Motzer, who also adds subtle but conspicuously beautiful electronics; and bassist Matthew Parrish, whose fingerprints are evident as the project’s producer and arranger. Donny McCaslin contributes tenor sax on four tracks, adding flashes of lightning across the album’s foreboding skyline. He’s a tempestuous foil on the visceral opening track, a cryptic kiss-off called “Poor Bird” that isn’t, as far as I can tell, a lament for Charlie Parker.
Spacious but verdantly detailed, the arrangement of the country standard “Wayward Wind” sets the album’s tone: a tumbleweed-and-barbed-wire feel that encompasses both a lazily loping version of Cole Porter’s “True Love” that would have fit Patsy Cline to a tee and a quietly electrifying take on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ “No Expectations” that digs out that song’s country roots. With McCaslin’s slashing tenor work, the roiling reimagination of “Lover Man” is less successful, but he elevates her excellent original (co-written with Motzer) “Double-Crossed,” an incantatory evocation of a betrayal with an extended saxophone passage that seems to answer the song’s persistent questions. Another Lordi original, “Before,” sounds like a tribute to Kate Bush circa Hounds of Love, a comparison intended as high praise indeed. A warm and generous instrument, Lordi’s voice sounds at home in all of these settings, acutely expressive, unaffected, and fully engaged with her accompanists, who get plenty of space to work in.
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