Music Review: Faye Webster's indie 'Underdressed at the Symphony' journeys through a lifetime

Faye Webster, known for her thoughtful blend of indie rock, folk and country, has a new album titled “Underdressed at the Symphony.” The release journeys through a lifetime — looking back at childhood and ahead to adult relationships — without ever sounding rushed.

The Atlanta-based singer-songwriter’s new record retains the warm, relaxed tone of her earlier work, but here, she has crafted a more balanced musical collage. Her longtime band — including her now-signature pedal steel sound, courtesy of musician Matt “Pistol” Stoessel — sets the mood, as do the measured doses of jazz, hip-hop, classical, and alt-country influences that defy simple categorization. All of the songs here are live-room recordings, giving Webster and her band the space to interact and improvise.

At 26, Webster is a decade into her professional career (the folky “Run and Tell,” released when she was 16, marked her debut.) Her veterancy is clear from the outset with the cool, downtempo opener, “Thinking About You.” The track ends with a glockenspiel, the only one on the record, which playfully nudges the listener to wake up and pay attention to what is to come.

From there, the album is generally understated — like the breezy “Feeling Good Today” — a trademark of Webster’s. On the select occasions when her reservations make way for musical fireworks, they hit the mark, particularly in the singles “But Not Kiss” and “Lego Ring.”

“But Not Kiss” starts with the soft strumming and a near whisper, “I want to sleep in your arms…” she sings, then jolts to complete the thought, “…but not kiss,” atop theatrical piano. The song continues with a series of quiet-loud pairings of intimate and thunderous confessions. (“I want to see you in my dreams but then forget,” in one verse, “I hope you’re OK, but I won’t ask” in another.)

“Lego Ring” is similarly explosive, fluctuating abruptly between fuzzy mid-tempo rock and dreamy hip-hop. Accompanied by Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty run through Auto-Tune, the song captures a yearning for childhood, warts and all. She sings, “I wanna Lego ring/I want it to hurt my finger/I want a Lego ring/Want it crystal clear.” The impact may be disorienting on first listen, but infectious by the third.

Elsewhere on the album, longer tracks stretch and wander with hypnotic repetitions of choruses and extended instrumental jams. In that regard, “Lifetime” lands somewhere between the noir rock band Elysian Fields and 1950s jazz improvisation.

In all, Webster has built upon the solid foundation of her previous work. This is an album designed for an end-to-end listen, and the fine musicianship, lyrics, and thoughtful sequencing throughout make it a worthwhile journey.


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