Liz Longley is in her mid-thirties now but has been recording and releasing music for the last 14 years. My first introduction to her was a most wonderful track, probably still my favourite, called ‘Outta My Head’, released on her self-titled album in 2015. Apart from the wonderful tune, great backing, spectacular voice and sassy lyrics, it caught my attention because of the lines “Cause I found your letters And that John Martyn record that we spun ’til it was dead I found your mixtape for the road And two tickets to a show And your sock from under my bed And now I can’t get you outta my head”.
Anyone who can reference John Martyn like that deserves my attention, I thought. And the album was great, full of some flirty, some hard-hitting songs about relationships good and bad, strained and over, physical and affectionate.
I checked her out – an award-winning songwriter, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston (where she studied voice) and fierce desire to keep control of her output. Her first outings ‘Somewhere in the Middle’ (2009) and ‘Hot Loose Wire’ (2010) were funded by Kickstarter campaigns and self-released. The first is a rather nice folk-pop offering but the second is a gorgeous selection of songs sung to just piano or acoustic guitar
Raised near Philadelphia, Longley gained a reputation and some profile by singing and playing at clubs and festivals in the US North-East. Sugar Hill spotted her talent and potential and signed her for the self-titled album that was released in 2015. The next album ‘Weightless’ was released the following year, a more pop-oriented and introspective offering but full of sparkling tunes and songs about relationship angst, her staple topic. ‘Swing’ was the first single from that album. That’s not to say that is the entire spectrum of her songwriting – she is not afraid to tackle ‘difficult’ subject, including sexual assault or inappropriate male behaviour: – He said, “get on your knees and do what you’re told he had his hands on the gun, his eyes on the gold And I was the gold, I was the prize but I wasn’t gonna fold at an easy price’” from ‘Gun and the Gold’ on ‘Hot Loose Wire‘ or the more recent and brilliant ‘3 Crow’ (from ‘Funeral for My Past’) “Everything you said was such a blur still I understood enough to know that it was meant to hurt I was sober that night we got pulled over But I had tears in my eyes and I couldn’t see the lines anymore”
Longley operated so far beneath the radar that reviewers viewed ‘Weightless’ as her sophomore album, when in fact it was her fifth. She can play piano and acoustic guitar beautifully and sings like an angel – clear and strong with a lovely warble which allows her to emote sympathetically and swing into a higher register in the blink of a note. She can even rap – listen to ‘Dough 4 Dough’ on ‘Hot Loose Wire’. She can sing virtually any style.
When Sugar Hill got subsumed into Rounder Records, she fell between the cracks and her album ‘Funeral For My Past’ was not released, until she began a Kickstarter campaign to buy back the rights to the album (raising three times the target from devoted fans). It eventually saw the light of day in September 2020, a timely release as touring and gigging had been put on the back burner due to Covid restrictions. And it is a triumph! Longley sings of a failed, and bad, relationship in the title track “I got down on my knees, dug up a mighty grave, made room for all the darkness, the anger and the shame”, while rejoicing in a new relationship which led to engagement, marriage and the birth of a child “ I think I cried a tear or two I knew it then, so did you, We’d never find a love so true again” from ‘Feel It All Over’.
Longley can be found on YouTube with covers of some of her favourite songs (Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ is a delight) and on Instagram and Facebook where she enjoys a very close relationship with her fans. She re-records some of her earlier songs acoustically for release on EP, there is a really sweet Christmas album and now we are expecting a new EP in the new year, and a full length album later. She should be a big star, although family life has probably slowed up progress recently. She is, however, a treasure. Take a listen.