Imagine a world without 90s country giants such as Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, whose superstardom changed twang forever, ushering in an era in which the genre would lean more Hootie and the Blowfish than Hank Williams. Lydia Loveless combines outlaw country spirit with punk-rock frankness, bringing to mind what could have been an alternate history for America’s Music City. In fact, country seems to be catching up with Loveless, as the likes of Miranda Lambert, Jade Jackson, Jamie Wyatt, and Nikki Lane ensure as proof that blunt, female guitar-slinging storytellers continue to make some of today’s most exciting music.
In contrast to Loveless’ 2016 album Real, which emphasizes her increasingly refined songwriting chops rather than her attitude and directness, Boy Crazy and Single(s) largely showcases a wilder, more reckless version of the artist. (No surprise, as it contains the entirety of her 2013 EP Boy Crazy.) By holding true to many of the foundations of American roots music, this collection serves as great car music—in part because Loveless will snap a driver out of daydreaming with an attention-grabbing phrase such as “Don’t go running around naked by the side of the road/Honey, you look ridiculous.”
Loveless’ knack for wringing humor out of America’s dark and broken-hearted underbelly—“Lover’s Spat,” for instance, comes on as a wryly sardonic song about the seriously unfunny topic of domestic violence—would pair well with the sinister humor of the Coen brothers.
For those who haven’t heard Loveless’ Boy Crazy EP, this collection is a must. The title cut, a jangly and chipper ditty, introduces us to a woman seemingly eternally possessed with a penchant for junior high-like crushes. “I wish I was his wife, not really though,” she sings as a rush of feverishly strummed guitars bolt by her. The aforementioned “Lover’s Spat” masks its menacing nature with an idealistic tone. “All the Time,” bolstered by a circular melody and winning harmonies, dials into the sense of addiction that comes from an affair.
Many of the other songs here are equally sharp. “Come Over,” a B-side from 2014, ever so slightly slows the pace to put the emphasis on Loveless’ stern phrasing and colorful lyrics. “I don’t want to wreck your home, but could she have an accident?” she sings before justifying the thought. “Well, I need something small to get her out of the way.” “Mile High” is anchored by a comforting slide guitar, even as the character in the song prefers regrets and drugs.
A host of well-chosen covers round out the set, afforded slightly above average production and, on Bloodshot’s LP, an alluring combination of grit and warmth that suits the material. See Loveless’ take on Kesha’s “Blind,” here a forlorn ballad laced with bitterness. Or her interpretation of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” now packed with more desperation and jumpy guitars. Even here, Loveless doesn’t chase pop but instead forces it to come to her.
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