Getting started at a young age might pose problems later in life when you’re an ambitious teenager thinking in the here and now. Liz Durrett, niece of Vic Chesnutt (who produced The Mezzanine), released her debut, Husk, just last year, despite having recorded it at home and in her University of Georgia dorm room between 1993 and 1996. Husk found her experimenting with lo-fi home recording and introspective lyrics, a formula that likely separated her from most of her peers and ironically might not have been ready for release in the mid-90s. Finally releasing a second album in 2006, however, Durrett might be finding herself in the unfortunate place of having just missed her window.
The Mezzanine hovers somewhere between awkward and chilling, though the two don’t seem to cross over at most points. Durrett is frequently compared to Chan Marshall due to the simplicity of her guitar work and the low, effortless timbre of her voice. But she sounds so much younger, less affected – less mature, in a sense. The repetition in her style is what makes her comparable, but Durrett’s got a forced rasp to her naturally higher voice that prevents her from developing the smokiness she’s aiming for. She certainly strives to create a high level of intimacy on her record and has a graceful, pretty voice that says “I don’t want my parents to hear me while I’m singing in my bedroom.” But if her songs are aiming to be introspective and haunting, then Durrett’s missing a natural quality that could make them much more lingering then they are.
Pretentious as the record might feel at times, it does come off as one that was created by a single musician at home. This isn’t far from the truth: The Mezzanine was recorded partially in an attic by Durrett and her Uncle Vic (save for her aunt Tina, who helped out with bass and xylophone on three tracks). And she does incorporate some unconventional stuff, like a taped conversation between her grandfather and herself as a four-year-old on “Cup on the Counter,” or Chesnutt’s trombone on “Creepyaskudzu.” But even those interesting elements blend in so quietly that they remain part of the simple singer/songwriter formula and fail to bring her to life.
The only bit of music Durrett had recorded between albums was her vocal addition to Chesnutt’s Ghetto Bells (2005). As much as her own album neglects to show a huge amount of progress in the decade she’s aged since recording her debut, it’s refreshing to see music remain a sort of family tradition, where musically oriented family members lend themselves to each other’s records and provide some genuine warmth that outsiders couldn’t necessarily offer. And Durrett does sound as though she’d received a bit of her uncle’s influence between his last album and hers. But it would ultimately be to her advantage to try out a sound that’s less influenced, less distinct to so many others who got their timing right.
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“Cup on the Counter”
“The Mezzanine” MP3
Liz Durrett Web site