Lydia Luce’s Lovely ‘Dark River’ Ebbs And Flows With Melancholy Drama

Lydia Luce
Dark River
(self-released)
4 out of 5 stars

“Truth is, I’ve never been good at goodbyes,” laments Lydia Luce about a broken relationship. What she is good at is expressing the feelings involved in that trying situation by infusing them into songs that float and sting.

It’s no surprise that the Nashville based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist uses strings liberally, but judiciously, throughout these eleven tracks on her second album. As a child prodigy and classically trained viola player (earning a Master’s degree in the instrument) with a mother who was an orchestra conductor, the table was set for that talent later in life. Her musical training (she graduated from the famed Berklee School of Music) led to working with a variety of acts ranging from Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson to Eminem.

But this album was born from trying times in Luce’s life. They included her home being hit by 2020’s Nashville tornado, where she barely escaped harm, to the afore mentioned dissolution of a romance in 2019. The latter situation, followed by a period of intense inner-examination, provides the thematic link for most of these tracks. Not surprisingly, the music is rooted in ballads that use both specific and imagistic lyrics to convey and explore feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty and ultimately a positive path forward. On the title track she sings, When I hunger for affection/After pushing you away/I tend to give a little more when I am broken, over heart pumping drums, tense lead electric guitar and surging, shadowy strings. It’s a widescreen example of how Luce approaches the other ten tunes.

Elsewhere the mood turns more contemplative on the lovely “Maybe in Time,” with the lyrics of, I read you like a fiction/Wrote it off as a fairy tale/Is it only wishing?/Or are you really there?,” sung over softly plucked guitar and subtle strings. The same goes for “Tangled Love” as Luce’s acoustic guitar dances around a supple blend of strings and bubbling, clippity-clip percussion singing, Let’s make a treaty/Let’s call it quits/Love shouldn’t feel like this. The song has a retro American Songbook quality to it highlighting her deep, mellifluous voice.

Credit goes to producer Jordan Lehining too. He contributes guitar, bass, piano and backing vocals while focusing Luce’s voice, similar to that of k.d. lang, up front and allowing space for the often orchestral layered strings and taut rhythm section to shift from indie rock to a provocative, rather sumptuous pop. It’s a terrific partnership resulting in an affecting 40 minutes that never feels insular or affected. Once you hear the lovely opening, “Occasionally,” with its easy going melody, sweeping strings and Luce’s passionate vocals, you’ll be hooked.

While nobody would wish the emotional and physical issues that Luce has endured in the past few years on anyone, she has utilized them to create a poignant album of rare sensitivity, warmth and musicality; one that transcends any particular life concern and is universal in its honesty.   

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