In an earlier era, Amy LaVere might have fronted a big band, becoming as celebrated as, say, Lee Wiley, or any number of other vocal stylists who had ears for jazz, but performed pop. On her latest, Anchors & Anvils, the Memphis singer gathers up the odd corners of funk and country with the help of a band that includes multi-instrumentalist Paul Taylor, whose Open Closed displays a sharp ear for the deep conventions of Anglophile pop. The records make a nice argument for Memphis eccentricity, even when it doesn't work.
LaVere's debut, 2006's This World Is Not My Home, had its moments. Produced by Taylor, the record was a spooky take on alt-country, and the playing by Taylor, guitarist Jason Freeman, and pianist Jim Dickinson was terse and atmospheric. Anchors replaces Taylor with Dickinson, whose production honors the loose and accidental and enlivens a classic busted-relationship record.
LaVere sings in a retiring purr that conceals lyrics of positively Victorian slyness. In "Cupid's Arrow," she sings, "I found a bow and a little arrow/ In a store/That was full of nothing/I was there for/I bought it for a song/I had saved up in a pocket." Splitting the difference between confessional and evasive, it's a strange, woebegone record.
If Anchors casts LaVere as oddball torch singer, Taylor's Open Closed takes as its models the tightly packed pop of Memphis forefathers like Van Duren and Alex Chilton. Overdubbing virtually everything himself, Taylor sounds spaced-out on the title track, and "Get Things Done" features a piano part that suggests a neurotic Badfinger. It's ambitious stuff, and on the amazing "He's 15, She's in a Magazine," he conflates Van Dyke Parks and Gilberto Gil, and even says something new about the loneliness of the one-man band.
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