If ever there were a good excuse for nepotism, it is the music of Liz Durrett. Just as Michael Stipe `found’ Vic Chesnutt in Athens, Geogria, so in turn did Vic `discover’ his niece, Ms. Durrett. When she was only sixteen, Chesnutt urged Durrett to “write mean songs aobut [her] parents.” She did just that, but it would nine years later that the songs would see the light of day in the album Husk. Thankfully only waiting one more year to put out another album, we are treated to the divine sounds of The Mezzanine, an album so full of smoldering and pensive beauty that one aches to hear it.
In the intimate and whispery tradition of Iron & Wine and Cat Power, Liz Durrett could be the bastard child of Sam Beam and Chan Marshall. Opening tracks “Knives at the Wall” and “All the Spokes” are what you’d get if Suzanne Vega were given Ambien and asked to record, which leads us into “Cup on the Counter,” the first single release from the album. Just as Vega sang about Tom’s diner, so Durrett sings about the coffee stain left by a cup on a counter. The more important aspects of the song are in the lyrics, “Why lie to me, I’m not a child, I know what I’ve seen.” This song emphasizes in more ways than one that she has grown up quite a bit. The song is ellipsed by a recording of Durrett when she was four years old, speaking with her grandfather about the Tooth Fairy. With this bit of archival recording, we are now privy to three distinct times in her life, as a toddler, then as a teen with the recording of Husk, and now as an adult singing about that past in The Mezzanine.
Nicholson Baker’s first novel, which shares a title with this album, details the minutiae of everyday life in an office during one lunch hour as the mind adds digression upon digression as he ruminates about paperclips, escalators, cigarette wrappers and a horde of other objects and thoughts. Durrett does not get as detailed as all that, but her version of The Mezzanine is similar in certain ways. Both deal with the power of memory and the intricacy of life. The album is a hazy photograph of the South, as we hear an example of as Durrett plays a tinny piano that resides in Chesnutt’s hall in the haunting instrumental piece “Silent Partner.” Another part of that snapshot is “Creepyaskudzu,” its title a reference to the vine that takes over everything on which it grows. One of the best tracks on the album is the one where Chesnutt gets to make some noise, “Little Ascendent,” seemingly about the subversion of Christianity.
Your birth was a mystery,
your life was exposed,
they took it and twisted it
and made it their own.
Throughout the song, Chesnutt makes some vocal noise in the background until towards the end of the song when he starts to play a spooky distorted guitar. It quickly became one of my favorites on the album.
The Mezzanine is a haunting and somber piece of work from a gifted young talent, thankfully brought to us by a nepotistic uncle. Liz Durrett captures the aura and sadness of the south so well, that one forgets where one is upon listening. For the hours that I devoted to it, I was not in the Pacific Northwest. I was instead holed up in an historic Savannah home, with the sky dark overhead, looking out at the creepers and the kudzu, trying to find my place in the world.
Natalie Merchant- The House Carpenter’s Daughter
Iron & Wine- The Sea & the Rhythm
Cat Power- Moon Pix