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On a too-warm February night at the Victory Grill, LZ Love is giving it all. Never mind that the band members outnumber the audience and staff at the outset, Love is pumping funky, gospel-rich soul into the legendary Austin venue where Bobby Blue Bland got his start and Blues Boy Hubbard ruled with the Jets.
It's testimony to Love's splendid vocals and soulful songwriting that listeners are entranced after just one song. So swears guitarist Charlie Prichard, whose own musical history in Austin goes back to the Sixties with Conqueroo. One Sunday about two years ago, he was at Maria's Taco XPress.
"She got up and sang 'Amazing Grace,'" he recalls, shaking his head. "I told her, 'I want to be your friend,' and we've been working together ever since."
That's a typical reaction to Love's powerhouse pipes, as capable of storming heaven as they are rocking the house and packing the dance floor. For the Chicago native, raised in the Bay area and honing her chops recording dance music in London and throughout Europe, there's no place quite like Austin.
The backstory of LZ Love's life and times is painted with colorful moments singing on and off the stage with Bonnie Raitt, Clarence Clemons, Mary Wells, Edwin Hawkins, and Parliament Funkadelic. One of the most vivid moments was the time she was paired with disco singer Sylvester ("Mighty Real").
"Oooh, I loved working with Syl!," purrs the singer. "It was one of my most exhilarating experiences. To see this big, flamboyant, beautiful man transform every night! One night he'd be in drag as a black geisha and the next he'd be an African queen. I was about 16, illegally in the bars with a fake ID."
That was the brighter side to a life that demanded much from her.
"I grew up ahead of my time, raising my nieces and nephews. I helped my mom and my sisters raise their children because I wanted to, but it seems like I've always had responsibilities. I'd play hooky from school to babysit and thought I was grownup because I was wearing an adult's shoes. Most of what I write is about my experience, but some of it is about what I'd like to go through."
My Higher Ground, Love's first CD in Austin, brims with 13 songs that reflect those childhood trials and adult tribulations with perseverance and optimism. It also establishes her as a link to Austin's wealth of R&B history. Besides performing with Prichard and guitarist Adam Raven, she opens regularly for the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers at Maria's and sits in with them, treasuring the gig for bringing her close to local favorites Shelley King and Carolyn Wonderland.
Back at the Victory Grill, the audience has grown and responds enthusiastically to her compositions "Heart Won't Lie" and "Something Good." When she breaks into a funkified "Wang Dang Doodle," it's clear there's nothing up-and-coming about LZ Love. The woman has fully arrived.
SXSW showcase: Saturday, March 18, 7pm @ Central Presbyterian Church