Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
It’s hard to understand why singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Bishop’s terrific Dave Cobb helmed 2016 Ain’t Who I Was release didn’t push her to the commercial heights she merited. But this follow-up three years later might just do the trick.
Despite the somewhat disappointing audience response to her previous set (critics almost unanimously praised it), Bishop knows the music industry, and life, is a tough road and she needs to “Keep On Movin’” as she sings on one of this album’s typically soulful selections. Trading Cobb for veteran producer Steve Jordan, Bishop sinks deep into the Southern soul waters she’s most comfortable in.
Jordan frames her tender, tough vocals in often dark, restrained instrumentation that stunningly and accurately reflects both the music’s inherent spiritual qualities and Bishop’s husky, yearning voice. Combining the strength of two other Bonnies (Bramlett and Raitt; the latter has covered her songs), along with dollops of Susan Tedeschi on low boil, Shelby Lynne and especially Bobbie Gentry’s dusky down home, red dirt groove, Bishop takes her time unpacking these seven tracks; three hover around seven minutes and nothing is under four. But the effect is riveting as she burrows below the heartbeat rhythm as in the opening “Love Revolution,” building the intensity from a whisper to a growl, matching the music’s similar gradual grasp and guitarist Ryan Tharp’s pulsating solo.
It’s an imposing, impressive opening, one that sets the bar high for the rest of the selections which nearly meet it. On the title track, Bishop sings above chain gang styled humming, haunting vocals, “Can I trust myself to know what’s right or wrong,” as the music slowly swirls and spins, pulling the listener into the swampy vibe of rootsy percussion and shadowy, atmospheric guitar work.
Most tracks subtly blend from one to the next providing a cohesive flow meant to be heard in order and during a single listen. By the time you get to the closing, gospel influenced “Song Don’t Fail Me Now” it’s clear that this album is the result of a perfect storm where Bishop’s exquisitely conceived melodies, uplifting lyrics that never preach and Jordan’s sympathetic production combine for an unforgettable emotional sonic wallop. The twosome creates a mood and maintains it for 40 of the most moving, stirring and poignant minutes you’re likely to hear this year.
It’s a powerful, likely career defining work that will hopefully bring the talented Bishop the popular recognition she undoubtedly deserves.
Run, don’t walk, to hear it.