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Review: LaVere's 'Stranger Me' weird, wonderful

Amy LaVere, "Stranger Me" (Archer)
/ Source: The Associated Press

Amy LaVere, "Stranger Me" (Archer)

Amy LaVere intended to record her latest album with Jim Dickinson, but the producer and Memphis music icon passed away in 2009 before she was ready to record "Stranger Me."

There's no doubt Dickinson would have loved LaVere's record, though.

It's a little bit weird, right from the opening notes of the wonderfully flippant opener "Damn Love Song," through the cover of Captain Beefheart's "Candle Mambo" near the end, and a whole lot of angry. And no wonder. It's a reflection of a time of great upheaval for LaVere, a diminutive Memphis singer known for her giant upright bass and a bit part as Wanda Jackson in "Walk the Line."

The fact that the album even exists — with the loss of her biggest champion, the departure of her guitarist Steve Selvidge to The Hold Steady and her breakup with boyfriend/drummer Paul Taylor — is a testament to her toughness. And all that upheaval is here on "Stranger Me" in song content, in odd tunings and instrumentations that conjure even odder emotions, and in her honesty. And it's just like Dickinson would have encouraged her to do.

With the help of Arcade Fire producer Craig Silvey, she emerges from this time defiant. "Stranger Me" is full of fabulous anti-love songs, hitting a high point with the menacing "Red Banks," a song about turning the tables on an angry lover, powered by baritone sax and haunting guitar.

There are delicate songs of longing and hurt as well. But LaVere's at her best on songs where she's shaking her tiny fist at men, at fate — and even her own heart.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: With a tip of the hat to "Red Banks," "Damn Love Song" is the highlight of "Stranger Me." It's a fabulous first impression, a curse thrown in your face like a drink, lurching along on a thundering bass line that's just the start of the psychedelic fun.