I Need To Love

Amy Lennard

Hold Your Own Records, 2008


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


To love is to risk everything, but love can be so compelling sometimes that you can’t turn away even when you know you should.  That’s the message at the core of New York singer-songwriter Amy Lennard’s captivating debut album. 

The aptly-named I Need To Love isn’t completely new, since it carries over three of the five tracks from Lennard’s brief, exceptional 2004 EP.  But it feels fresh and immediate in the way timeless music always does. These are songs that capture moments and feelings in a voice that’s simultaneously intimate and confessional, universal and directive.  This is a writer who’s learned some hard lessons along the way, and shares them now in song.

You can feel the Lucinda Williams influence all over I Need To Love’s dusty, sometimes stark Americana stylings, especially as Lennard’s earthy, rangy voice rises and falls with the emotion of each track.  Kickoff cut “I Wish It Were Mine” – which also opened her EP -- employs all of Lennard’s tools, a wryly melancholic portrait of envy in which the truth underlying the entire song slips out only at the end, as the narrator’s refrain about her perpetually, maddeningly satisfied friend -- “I really want her to be happy” – sheds a single word and becomes “I really want to be happy.”  Whammo -- that’s great songwriting.

The next five cuts are all new material and it’s uniformly strong, from the lilting “seize the moment” exhortation “Forever Tonight” to the spot-on expose of human nature that is “I Can’t Change You.”  Of special note is “Broken,” from whose lyric the album title is taken.  It’s hard to imagine an artist more emotionally naked than Lennard allows herself to be as she wails “I need to love / I need to open / I need to hold / The part of me that’s broken.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The other two holdovers from her previous EP follow, and they’re outstanding.  “Holy Night” Is a hymn to life inside a fleeting moment of bliss (“Now we’re just resting here / There’s no hope and there’s no fear / On this holy night”) and “El Paso” captures beautifully the supercharged moment when you fall hard for someone (“I love the way when we talked / felt like I was singing inside”) – even someone you can’t have.

“I Will” is another highlight, an intense steady-builder in the mold of early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers that finds a tortured Lennard working up the nerve to the leave her two-timing lover, trying to convince herself that “I will, I will say goodbye to you / I will, I will, I will forget about you.”  In the closing “Dream,” Lennard’s mood lightens and she states her intentions going forward -- “Gonna let myself dream / Gonna open, open up my heart and see” -- announcing at the end “I think I’m ready.”  It’s the perfect finish to a song cycle about preparing yourself to take that big risk.

I Need To Love was self-produced by Lennard, with most of the tracks recorded and mixed by Ben Wisch (Marc Cohn, David Wilcox, Kathy Mattea, Aimee Mann).  The resulting sound is superb, clean and crisp without losing any of the warmth and groove and space of these arrangements.

I always hesitate to overpraise an artist who’s just beginning to find an audience.  Creating unrealistic expectations seems almost as unkind a thing to do as to harshly critique a performer in that position.  But sometimes you have to stand on principle.  Amy Lennard has a gift for crafting songs that reveal deeper and more dangerous truths than most songwriters not named James Taylor are willing to expose.  In doing so she taps into the kind of visceral, universal emotions that resonate on an almost instinctual level and make for truly memorable – yes, timeless -- songwriting.

So there – I said it.  Lucinda Williams, James Taylor, Amy Lennard.  These three names belong in the same sentence; you just don’t know it yet.  It’s time to educate yourself.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hold Your Own Records, and is used for informational purposes only.