CD Review of Outside Our Gates by Liz Durrett
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Liz Durrett:
Outside Our Gates

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

or Liz Durrett, making music would seem to be a family affair. That’s not surprising, given that her uncle is acclaimed singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt. Forget the fact he tends to be a bit odd and askew; Uncle Vic likely earned some kudos from the kinfolk when he produced her early recordings, made while she was attending the University of Georgia and first immersing herself in the legendary Athens, Georgia music scene. Those sessions later formed the bulk of her 2005 debut, Husk, which was followed by her sophomore set, The Mezzanine, a year later.

Unlike her uncle, Durrett doesn’t take her tunes into wackier realms. In fact, her hushed, reverential tones are the antithesis of Chesnutt’s off-kilter anthems. It’s a sound that’s sleepy and surreal, hardly the sort of thing to keep the party hopping into overdrive. Still, Durrett possesses a lilt and innocence that’s in rare supply these days, and that in itself has garnered her a small but enthusiastic following.

Outside Our Gates won’t necessarily expand that base to any great extent, but it should help her reap further kudos from those already initiated. Durrett still strains to rise above a whisper and songs like “Wake to Believe,” “In the Eaves” and “Note for a Girl” sound pretty vacant in their drift and disconnect. However, she recoups and regroups when she nudges the melodies into a slow build, cushioning the meditative, contemplative deliberations of “We Build Bridges,” “All of Them All” and “You Live Alone” on undulating rhythms and chamber orchestrated effects. Several members of the Athens elite – Chesnutt included -- contribute to the proceedings, but the individual making the biggest impression on this musical canvas seems to be Eric Bachmann, who surveys similar turf under his Crooked Fingers pseudonym. Bachmann is credited with arranging the strings, but in fact, his presence is felt in the effort overall, given that his downcast signature sound nicely complements Durrett’s quietly compelling demeanor.

Ultimately, Outside Our Gates finds Durrett moving forward and asserting more of an assertive stance. While it’s hardly the emphatic statement needed to ensure that bigger breakthrough, it does offer melodies and arrangements that coalesce far more than before. It’s a subtle statement, but the delicacy, beauty and grace that Durrett manifests in these songs help put Outside Our Gates a little more within reach.

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