If Lydia Loveless were more famous, the supposed confessionalism of songwriters like Taylor Swift would be quickly revealed as the shallow and trite cultivation of a public persona that it is. Loveless’s exes don’t just break her heart; they leave her in emotional desolation, which she responds to not with starry-eyed pining for the next guy to come along, but with very bad decisions. Loveless seemingly has no filter when recounting debaucherous, boozy nights and painful memories, rendering them with a sharp tongue and take-no-shit attitude in a drawl that’s awfully pronounced for someone from Columbus, Ohio.
Blessed with a commanding, blast-it-to-the-back-of-the-room voice, the 25-year-old Lydia Loveless was raised on a family farm in Coshocton, Ohio—a small weird town with nothing to do but make music. With a dad who owned a country music bar, Loveless often woke up with a house full of touring musicians scattered on couches and floors. She has turned this potential nightmare scenario (eww….touring musicians smell…) into a wellspring of creativity.
When she got older, in the time-honored traditions of teenage rebellion, she turned her back on these roots, moved to the city (Columbus, OH) and immersed herself in the punk scene, soaking up the musical and attitudinal influences of everyone from Charles Bukowski to Richard Hell to Hank III.
Loveless’s Bloodshot debut album Indestructible Machine combined heady doses of punk rock energy and candor with the country classicism she was raised on and just can’t shake; it was a gutsy and unvarnished mash-up. It channeled ground zero-era Old 97s (with whom she later toured) but the underlying bruised vulnerability came across like Neko Case’s tuff little sister. Indestructible Machine possesses a snotty irreverence and lyrical brashness that’s an irresistible kick in the pants.
On her second Bloodshot album Somewhere Else, released after a few 7″ singles and an EP, Loveless was less concerned with chasing approval – she scrapped an entire album’s worth of material before writing the set – and more focused on fighting personal battles of longing and heartbreak, and the aesthetic that comes along with them. While her previous album was described as “hillbilly punk with a honky-tonk heart” (Uncut), this one couldn’t be so quickly shoehorned into neat categorical cubbyholes. No, things were different this time around—Loveless and her band collectively dismissed the genre blinders and sonic boundaries that came from playing it from a safe, familiar place. Creatively speaking, if Indestructible Machine was an all-night bender, Somewhere Else was the forlorn twilight of the next day, when that creeping nostalgia has you looking back for someone, something, or just… anything.
2016’s Real is one of those exciting records where you sense an artist truly hitting their stride, that their vision is both focused and expansive, and that their talent brims with a confident sense of place, execution and exploration. Whether you’ve followed Lydia’s career forever, like us, or if you are new to her ample game, Real is gonna grab your ears.
On her first two Bloodshot albums, there were fevered comparisons to acknowledged music icons like Loretta Lynn, Stevie Nicks, Replacements, and more. She’s half this, half that, one part something else. We hate math. But, now Real and Lydia Loveless are reference points of their own. Genre-agnostic, Lydia and her road-tightened band pull and tease and stretch from soaring, singalong pop gems, roots around the edges to proto-punk. There are many sources, but the album creates a sonic center of gravity all its own.
Always a gifted writer with a lot to say, Lydia gives the full and sometimes terrifying, sometimes ecstatic force of the word. Struggles between balance and outburst, infectious choruses fronting emotional torment are sung with a sneer, a spit, or a tenderness and openness that is both intensely personal and universally relatable. It is, as the title suggests, real.
Lydia Loveless has toured with artists such as Old 97’s, Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell, Iron & Wine, Scott H. Biram, and the Supersuckers. Her music has been praised by Rolling Stone, NPR, Pitchfork, SPIN, Stereogum, Chicago Tribune, and more.
Loveless penned an original song for the 2015 film I Smile Back, starring Sarah Silverman, and was the subject of the 2016 documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless?, directed by Gorman Bechard.
Fortunately, spending more time on her melodies didn’t prevent Loveless from writing revealing, emotionally visceral lyrics. While she may temper some of the grimier details of her sordid relationship tribulations, she still tackles them head on, with humor on the winningly jaunty “European” (“When I kissed you on the lips I was just bein’ European”), jadedness on the sneering “Midwestern Guys” (“You want to make love, not fuck…That’s how romantic you are”), and pathos on the ethereal “Out on Love” (“I tried, but I could not be carried away/I guess I’ll miss/Out on love”), a stunningly beautiful, mournful highlight. Indeed, even with the improved production values and greater musical eclecticism, Real is still fittingly unadulterated.
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