The Chariots Rise for Lizzie West

Jul 14, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:An Excellent Debut from Lizzie West.

Cons:Some Might Not Get the Fact that She Sounds like Natalie Merchant, Vocally.

The Bottom Line: "Holy Road: Freedom Songs" is an excellent, breathtaking debut from up-and-coming singer-songwriter Lizzie West.

With the recording industry now complaining over declining sales due to online file sharing, it is now getting tougher to break newer artists without hype or any form of publicity. The great thing about the Internet is that it gives people a chance to find newer artists. Some even just go to try and find new artists through other avenues like magazines, promos, and other sources. Most recently, given to my obsession towards the Steven Shainberg movie “Secretary”, I was able to come across some new music through the trenches of Angelo Badalamenti’s score and Leonard Cohen through a song called “Chariots Rise” by a new up-and-coming singer-songwriter named Lizzie West.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1973, Lizzie West has been making a grassroots efforts to sell her music until the late 90s when she caught the attention of HBO where they used a few of her songs for a film. The paycheck she used got her to make songs for her album and she eventually got the attention of many people including her hero Leonard Cohen, where she recorded a cover of “I’m Your Man” on an EP. Then she got the attention of Warner Brothers in 2002 where they signed her on a deal. Next thing you know, one of her songs “Chariots Rise” that appeared in her EP made the soundtrack to the 2002 independent film “Secretary” and a buzz ensued towards her as in April 2003, she released her full-length debut “Holy Road: Freedom Songs”.

Upon hearing the songs on “Holy Road”, West’s voice will immediately make people think of 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant. While both vocalists have a distinctive, evocative vocal style, West’s vocals are a bit raspier with the likes of alt-country singer Lucinda Williams and “Broken English”-era Marianne Faithfull. The songs on “Holy Road” are geared towards a bit more alt-country with dabbles of folk music, dream-pop, and the use of Pro Tools computer programs and drum machines. West’s songs of heartbreak, Americana, humor, and nostalgia sets the tone for an album of serene, dreamy, and upbeat songs that is refreshing since today’s pop music is lost more on current musical styles rather than trends with West co-producing the album with Brian “Sacks” Holloway and Marc Jameson. With another burgeoning alt-country singer Kathleen Edwards gaining buzz, Lizzie West is marking a new wave for more mature singer-songwriters as opposed to the current onslaught of the likes of Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, and Vanessa Carlton. “Holy Road: Freedom Songs” is easily one of the year’s most breathtaking debuts from the crass Lizzie West.

The album opens with a thirty-eight second intro called “Welcome” as it is a spoken word track with a bit of acoustic guitars and chiming percussion tracks as Lizzie West says, “Welcome to the Center for Social, Philosophical, and Spiritual Research. Enter your individual code, and the gate will open, as you’re traveling down the path. Please watch for signs that will lead you toward the Center, thank you”. Now comes the album’s first song “Time To Cry” with smooth, vibrant electro-percussion beats and a wailing, harmonica track as West sings the song. The song is followed by a soft, washy electric guitar track, as it gets louder when she sings, “Mrs. Hess stands/At the head of the class/Now girls must remain/You wouldn’t want to scare ‘em with all of that sass/So let’s review the rules of the game/One more time”. The song’s lyrics of pain with images of Americana is unique in its musical delivery as it transcends elements of alt-country and pop thanks in large part to the doors that were opened by Wilco with their 2002 masterpiece “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”.

“Dusty Turnaround” opens with West playing a melodic, country acoustic guitar track with chiming bells, and soft, mid-tempo rhythm Pro Tools drum machines. West sings storytelling lyrics of love with stories about a hobo man, and a one-eyed butler as she sings, “She goes to the one-eyed butler across the street/Fix me something fast for they are hungry and they must eat/He gives her the making of a very fine meal/She throws them at his feet” as it later leads to the song’s sweeping chorus of “You take that dusty turnaround/Yellow brick road/Just remember man, there is no place like home” in this blend of country and dream-pop. “The Day We Met” is a soft, melancholic ballad with smooth, melodic acoustic guitar riffs as West sings somber lyrics of “I’m calling back, unfold these arms/The love we had is still ours/I am holding, we will walk, arms unfolding we will walk” as she is accompanied by a soft, drum track and smooth, keyboard tracks. She then goes into the sweeping chorus of “Where the pumpkin-colored trees are turning red/Well, I love you like I loved you the day we met”. A washy, electric guitar track later comes in as it brings in a dose of chiming, melodic guitar washes to West’s somber lyrics.

“Miss You Baby” opens up with distorted talking before it goes into a smooth, mid-tempo track of drums and upbeat acoustic-country guitar riffs as West sings for wanting a man. The song’s smooth, upbeat tone is filled with spark, especially in West’s dark lyrics in the chorus of “Well I miss you baby/I miss your hands/And I miss you baby/I miss your hands/Go on and touch me baby/And use those hands/To hold me baby/Please don’t you leave this land” as it is later followed by a smooth, melodic, electric guitar solo in the song’s coda. Next is the current single for “Sometime”, that originally appeared in her 2002 self-titled EP. With its smooth, acoustic tone and dreamy melodies is one of the album’s most enjoyable standouts with West’s evocative vocals and mid-tempo beats. The song’s lyrics of Americana is filled with brilliance as she sings the chorus of “Goodbye, I’m leaving now/I’ll see you sometime” as it is followed by chiming, melodic electric guitar riffs. Also revealed in the song’s is the lost American innocence through lyrics of “The lazy trade their dignity/At the root of the conspiracy/Is there the corporate claim on all our needs/Down goes the small man’s dreams/The franchise rise and provide/America, how do you like it/This is what we will be” as it returns to its dreamy chorus.

Next is the harrowing, “Monkey Back Blues” as it opens with West singing with an accompanying acoustic guitar track as she sings, “Down on the plains/Where the buffaloes used to roam/Girl had a name, name it was home/She bled for the people, she bled for the rain/When she was dying, they called out her name. Home, home, her name was home”. The song’s loss of old American imagery as its is accompanied by soft, atmospheric keyboards as West sings lyrics of loss as she sings, “Friends they say I’m holding out/My train’s gone off the track/All the while, I’m calling out/Will this monkey on my back” as she calls for home. “Jenny” is a bass-throbbing track with smooth, pulsating drumbeats, reverb keyboards, and West’s hollow vocals. West sings lyrics of a girl named Jenny whose been wronged by a man as West wants to be a man and comfort her in lyrics of “If I were a man, I would teach my son to love like he should, if I were a man/If I were a man then, I would take her safely in my hands/If I were a man”. A simmering keyboard track follows the song as Jenny begins to fail as West sings she went down the rabbit hole as a tragic end to her story.

“Doctor” is a return to the more, upbeat alt-country sounds with drum machines, reverb keyboards, and melodic acoustic guitar riffs. West then sings, “Excuse me Mr. Jeckyl, pardon Mr. Hyde/What is the sense of leaving here/With that poor unfinished pride/No one will understand you/They’ll lie like cloak on king/Those mean-faced c*m starf*ckers, will gladly turn you in” as West shows her twisted sense of humor. The song features a smooth, jazzy vibe with its array of keyboards and drum machines as she sings the chorus of “You better get yourself to the doctor/Your head just ain’t on right/(repeat lines)/The way you put on face all day/And then can’t sleep at night/You better get yourself a doctor/Your head just ain’t on right/They will claim you”. “Hit The Road” is another upbeat track with drum machines and country-acoustic guitar riffs as West sings lyrics of “Woke up this morning/We’d slept hand in hand/Figured last night was a warning/That it was time to end this great love affair”. The song goes into simple, upbeat tone as West ends a relationship and hits the road for a trip as she would later sing in a chorus of “Darling, I still love you/And baby I swear/That I will always love you/And all that we’ve shared” as each verse seems to convey that she sings about one man on one town and another in another town.

“Prayer” is a dreamy, electronic-driven track with reverb keyboard riffs; soft, pulsating drum machines, and West’s eerie vocals as she sings brooding lyrics featuring passages by D.H. Lawrence and an unknown. The song also features dreamy, acoustic guitar riffs with the song’s pulsating drum machine tracks as she sings, “Of quiet birds in circled flight/Do not stand at my grave and cry” as it is later followed by West reading a passage. The brooding passage whether its from Lawrence or the unknown is filled with cryptic imagery as it is set in its dreamy, melancholic accompaniment of keyboards and drum machines that sets the perfect tone for the song. Next is the five-minute “See You Through (Conversation)” that starts out as a piano ballad with an accompanying acoustic guitar track as West sings her somber lyrics. The song is followed by a smooth, sliding guitar track with melodic washes as she sings, “Please take me down, like by the edge/Ivy defines the wall/And that is al/That is all, like by the blush/He’s hard and pressed against her crush/Hold me close, I will try” as it leads to the wailing chorus line of “I will see you through” as West sings it with a bunch of backup vocalists. After a brief, melodic guitar solo, West sings to her somber lyrics as she returns to its wailing chorus that is captured in the production from West and Brian “Sacks” Holloway.

The album closer is the six-minute “Holy Road” as West plays an acoustic guitar track as she ends her journey with this song of the road. She then goes into lyrics of Americana as she sings about a small-town boy wanting to start a rock n’ roll band as she searches for the holy road. The track is then followed by smooth, upbeat drumbeats and simmering keyboards as she sings, “I want to know the walk of a holy road/I know the time for a seed to take/I know how high the water rises/Just before it breaks/And I know the want of a touch/From a lover who can’t give enough”. West calls for the Lord as she sings the song’s final line of “I pick them up and I gather them as I go/These are the stones of a holy road” repeatedly as the album now ends.

“Holy Road: Freedom Songs” is an excellent, breathtaking debut from Lizzie West. While some people might not get past the fact that she sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant, vocally, the music is still filled with brilliance in its blend of country, dream-pop, and folk. Fans might even enjoy the CD Rom feature of a film on West while she is getting buzz from magazines including Entertainment Weekly as they named her one of the year’s best new artists. Fans of alt-country might enjoy this record as well since there’s very good elements of country along with some drum machines and other gadgets. If people could get past the Merchant comparison, then Lizzie West’s “Holy Road” is another of the 2003’s brightest debut albums.

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