Toby Lightman – World Café Live – Philadelphia, PA – December 3, 2014 – photo copyright 2014 Jim Rinaldi.
Toby Lightman – World Café Live – Philadelphia, PA – December 3, 2014
The first we ran across Toby Lightman was when we were asked to interview her in 2004. She was a young Philly-based artist who had been discovered by Wyclef Jean and producer Peter Zizzo, who was red hot from discovering Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton. Lightman was targeted for the same heights, her label Atlantic saw her as a strong-voiced dance-rock-pop star in the making, a wicked mix of Lavigne and Pink. On the release of her debut album Little Things, an Atlantic exec confidently told Billboard magazine that the album was at least four hit singles deep.
Sadly, that prediction never came to fruition. Not even close. Her first single, the spectacular anti-love song “Devils and Angels” barely charted and then she had a slightly bigger hit with a spiky cover version of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” – which wasn’t even an album track, but a b-side that was later added as a bonus track. Then the album pretty much sank with little notice. And while it was an enjoyable debut, listening back to the busy and slightly-dated production and instrumentation tells you with hindsight that perhaps that was inevitable.
Freed of the next-big-thing baggage, Lightman was freed to go back to her more natural, significantly less slick folk-soul roots for the very good follow-up album Bird on a Wire, which also evaded it’s deserved audience, probably because Atlantic was not sure how to promote it.
Therefore Lightman moved into the independent ranks and a funny thing happened. Freed of industry expectations, Lightman’s music has just gotten more and more impressive, without seeming to have to try as hard as Little Things sometimes did. Life and some hard knocks have become the canvas of a few terrific solo releases, from the terrific 2008 platter Let Go to her brand new disk Every Kind of People.
The World Café show was her first promoting the new album (and her first in her home area in a few years) and despite a stripped-down band and set, Lightman’s ability as a powerhouse singer has just improved and matured.
The maturity benefits even the older material. “Devils and Angels” felt sturdier here with a strong acoustic backing and having lost the slightly inhumane drum-machine feel of the original. Instead, Lightman sang it like an aggrieved soul mama – even weaving in a snatch of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” – before breaking it down wildly. Even if you had liked the original, the new version of the song was a revelation, opening it much deeper than it ever seemed to go.
Her repertoire has become intriguingly broad, from the folk-pop bliss of “Milk & Honey” to the hushed devotion of her sweetly optimistic new true-love song “Bumps in the Road.” She also played several songs from the terrific new album, including the poppy and jaunty title-track “Every Kind of People,” and the new songs were received just as strongly as her better-known catalogue tunes.
She was wonderfully mischievious with the anti-romantic “I’m Gonna Break His Heart,” which was playfully interspersed with a snippet from the Script’s “Breakeven (Falling to Pieces).” In fact, Lightman pulled off this trick a few times. Other cover songs that Lightman merged with her own work included a snippet of Echosmith’s “Cool Kids” and a gorgeous cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
Perhaps the best part about the whole night was the realization that Lightman’s songs were just as strong as those other artist’s big hits. As strange as this may be to say, perhaps the music world is better off that Toby Lightman did not become a pop star all those years ago. She has grown into a much more interesting artist by taking her own path.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 3, 2014.
Photo ©2014 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.
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