Theres a music biz truism that says an artist has her whole life to write her first album and six months to write her second. What that statement fails to take into account are maturation and inspirationtwo elements present in abundance throughout Bird on a Wire, on Atlantic Records, the surprising second album from New York-based writer/artist Toby Lightman. With 13 songs running the gamut from the Rufus-style funk-pop of Round and Round and the shimmering old-school R&B of Slipping to the moving lullaby Better and the modern-day torch song Weight of the World, the album documents an uncommonly gifted young artist in the act of becoming fully herself.
While the quantized beats of 2004s Little Things reflected Lightmans dual infatuations with hip-hop and rock, Bird on a Wire is carried by sultry manmade grooves and super-tasty musicianship courtesy of producers Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Shelby Lynne, Van Hunt) and Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Jewel, Natasha Bedingfield), each of whom helmed roughly half of the album. Bottrell and Lightman supplied the guitars on the tracks he worked on, once again using members of his Tuesday Night Music Club, while Leonard, a virtuosic keyboardist, called on former Prince cohort Wendy Melvoin to play bass and some guitar. An amazing group of musicians played on this record, Lightman marvels. The soulful instrumental performances make a perfect match with Lightmans sophisticated material and masterful vocal performances, both of which bear witness to the epiphany that led to her exponential growth patternan epiphany that occurred during the months she spent on tour, opening for Howie Day, Gavin DeGraw, OAR, Marc Broussard and, on one memorable evening, Prince.
After being on the road for a year and a half, the diminutive artist explains, I fell in love with the live aspect of performing, and relying on humans rather than programmed computers. It was then I decided I wanted my music to become more organic. Inspired, Lightman immersed herself in the records of great soul singers like Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers and Aretha Franklin, and this listening provided her with the equivalent of an advanced degree in her lifetime of musical studies. Now Ive become a real snob about it, she says. These artists are the crux of everything thats come after them; its so genuine and pure. They helped me see that if the song and the vibe are there, you dont really need much more than that.
Lightman couldnt wait to bring these revelations to bear on her own writing, but she knew herself well enough not to force the issue. I let it happen naturally, she says, because when you think too much about it, you tend to become too purposeful in the message. Going back to my first record, Ive wanted to be truthful in my writing. I dont write party songs; every song I write comes out of a real experience.
Little Things got its share of acclaim and established Lightman as a newcomer worth watching. But few realized the breadth and depth of her talent. That will likely change when people experience Bird on a Wire.
Lightman titled the album after a 1969 LP of the same name by her late uncle, who encouraged her and offered sage advice after shed decided to make music her career, at a time when everyone else was waiting for her to come to her senses. Fortunately for the rest of us, she never did.