Exploring darker corners of self seems to suit Presley
Some thoughts on Lisa Marie Presley: "Too bad she ain't just like her daddy / Oh, what a shame / She got no talent of her own / It's just her name."
Thus does Presley anticipate (or revive) some of the conventional — and cynical — wisdom about her musical career on Sticks and Stones, a bonus track on the deluxe version of the new album Storm & Grace, released this week.
She even refers to her possibly hereditary pout: "She looks bad; she looks mad . . . / Why's she so angry and mean?"
Why ask why? Although the "angry" part seems to hold true on her frequently embittered third album, the rest of the expected criticisms are rendered irrelevant by how much she has grown into her role as a singer-songwriter.
Working with all-star collaborators in producer T Bone Burnett and co-writers Ed Harcourt and Richard Hawley, Presley has come back with a superior, Americana-style effort that leaves her earlier, slicker, ill-considered musical work in the dust.
The test: Would you want to listen to it if her name were Lisa Marie Schwarzenegger? Happily, Storm & Grace would be a rose under any other singer's name. This might be the best thing that any Presley has done since Suspicious Minds.
If you were to take a stab at which musician's style Storm & Grace most sounds like, it wouldn't be her dad so much as a guy who took a lot of cues from her father but put his own exceptionally dark and moody spin on that sound: Chris Isaak.
Low-key is the order of the day. Presley had a minor pop hit with her debut in 2003, but in her semiretirement since 2005, she seems to have given up any thoughts of going for a brass ring. Her voice, which sounded stretched thin on those two earlier albums, is no longer a concern now that she has found cohorts who know just what kind of musical pocket works for her unexceptional but alluring-enough chops.
And although it might be tempting even for admirers of the album to claim that its artistic success is all Burnett's work, the songs themselves (in which he didn't have a hand) are strong enough that you can believe him when he swears that Presley's demos were impressive.
The opening Over Me picks up one of the album's better heads of steam — it's a medium-tempo country-rocker — as Presley sings mixed messages about how she feels about the new girl in a former lover's life.
"She's cool in a gap-toothed hippie-chick way," Presley sings, nonchalantly, of her successor. " She took my place, saved the day."
It's a depressive enough album that Presley frequently seems friendless, questions her own bad karma, and/or has some questions for the Almighty: "On my forehead, does it say / Unleash all hounds of hell this way?"
The last couple of tracks strike a more hopeful tone, but Storm & Grace has decidedly more storm than grace — which makes it a late-night album in the lonesome tradition of, say, Sinatra's Only the Lonely.