Lightman’s follow-up to her intriguing 2004 debut, “Little Things,” is just as soulful but gratefully less adorned. That’s a good thing, because the honest texture of the loping, Ray Charles rhythm of “My Sweet Song” and the restrained yet powerful “One Sure Thing” exude the self-assurance missing from, say, Nelly Furtado’s latest or one of Kelly Clarkson’s many near misses.
At the same time, she can tear into a funky groove with equal passion and conviction. A thumping bass line dominates “Holding Me Down,” a rocking track that’s also the record’s first single.
“Don’t Let Go” is an empowered woman’s song, with lines like “I’m gon’ tell you when it’s over/but it’s not over yet” and “I’m sick of hearing your voice” emphasizing the “takes no prisoners” mood present over much of “Bird on a Wire.”
“Alone,” despite overly simple words (“Alone isn’t how I think of me/I’m waiting for the day/when I can put that word away”), explores Lightman’s vulnerable side. There are two versions, the official hard rocking one, and a stripped, slowed down “bonus track” take that’s much more heartfelt and engaging.
“Don’t Wake Me,” the record’s leadoff track, begins with a gospel choir, and then kicks into a Memphis groove with a spine-tingling call-and-response chorus. Another winner is “Round & Round,” a Little Feat meets Betty Carter gumbo that could make a dead man sway.
This energy is present throughout “Bird on a Wire,” even on spare ballads like “Good Find.” “You’re the thought that clears my head,” the sultry Lightman sings, soaring over a perfectly uncluttered arrangement. It’s the high point in a record with many.
“Bird on a Wire” is a solid sophomore effort from a rising star.
(4 out of 5 stars)