Lindsey Webster – A Woman Like Me
Lindsey Webster – A Woman Like Me
The pedigree is unimpeachable. The players’ execution of the material before them is exceptional. The guests, Nathan East, Luis Conte, and Vinnie Colaiuta, are inspired and lend to the prestige feel of the proceedings. And since this is the gifted Lindsey Webster we’re talking about, the heavily coated reverbed vocals are never less than technically flawless. And, yet… There is a smooth jazz, pretty sameness that dogs far too much of Lindsey Webster’s fifth outing, the very personal oeuvre A Woman Like Me, a work that only occasionally rises above something to calm frayed nerves in troubled times to actually command your attention.
If this is your first time to the Webster rodeo, you may be delighted and surprised at its satiny sounds and clean vocal lines that have both the tone and the range. You may note how sophisticated and chic its urbane sweeps are in an ‘80s Moonlighting and early ‘90s jazz clubs renaissance kind of way (think Mo’ Betta Blues circa early Spike Lee). How much the work almost demands candlelight and pale gold wine, if not a bracing cognac swirling around in a well-palmed snifter.
All of that would also be true for the prior four projects of the Webster and Keith Slattery, her Grammy-nominated producer/composer/keyboardist/constant. Only those also boasted far more memorable songs, #1 hits even (“Fool Me Once” and “Where Do You Want To Go”) and the last sublime foray, Love Inside, more daring. Unfortunately, on A Woman Like Me, the safety is firmly latched on the bulk of this would-be smoking gun, lyrically uncovering the relationship shifts in Webster’s real life, since the end of the romantic side of the Webster/Slattery partnership, and the self-discovery of a woman freshly in her 30s.
The first four tracks of A Woman Like Me return to the sonic wells of albums past to diminishing returns, creating a dazzling mosaic of background waves you’ll nod at sweetly from time to time, looking up from your magazine or book, but move back to the page in search of something more arresting. The tables turn a bit in the seven-minute plus atmospherics of “Perspective” and the musical good times roll straight through to “Rain,” with the title track sandwiched in between being the most emotionally resonating and compelling enough to want to unpack.
On “A Woman Like Me,” featuring Nathan East’s bass, Webster reveals more of the inner truths and conflicts of her journey to date in a cut that many will identify with. The damning “Running Around” is lyrically more astute—and avoids the preciousness of—the jingly cuts that precede it like the clichéd “One Step Forward.” This middle earth of material is the beating heart of Webster and Slattery’s project, even as they seldom depart from the soft cashmere musical palette that could be called “signature” at this point, but is a sound becoming creatively threadbare for collaborators whose talents are astonishing enough to be worthy of more musical challenge and landscapes to paint in.
Vocally, Webster always manages to pull out all the stops to show us what more she can do, what hidden recesses her instrument has to bear. A Woman Like Me’s two vocal tour de forces close out the project: an original, “Always Love Me,” and a cover, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” The former elevates the project with tinges of “Visions of Love”-era Mariah Carey. The latter is well done, with vocal acrobatics to spare, but fails to connect with any sense of the burning, heartbreaking longing at the center of Yip Harburg’s escapist lyric.
With so little to be sure of, Webster’s familiar and relentlessly competent work will offer a comforting balm to shattered nerves and heightened anxieties. It will, without question, soothe. In that, the timing of this project’s release is a benefit, to both us and Webster’s latest work. Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson