Thursday, July 22, 2021

Delight In The Company Of Lissie As She Perfects Her Craft

We all know the Route 66 dream. 

Golden valleys with sunbeams stretching out to a jagged crevice, like caressing a lovers’ spine. A locomotive racing time itself, and time stopping to catch its breath. 

Then, of course, you are there. In a vintage, red convertible roadster. Every Mustang needs a Sally, in her best summer frock. She’d stretch her arms out of the back of the car, trying to cling to memory at 100kph. T

he unfortunate man driving solemnly in the pick-up you just overtook is now clinging to the wheel with both hands as you drive into the distance. “Sure I might be saved in the afterlife” he’d ponder, “but by staring at the clock face, those two beatniks in that soft-top ahead, seem to be having the time of my life.”

Of course, this road movie scene would need a soundtrack. Country infused, driving Americana is often a safe bet. The expansive soundscape lends itself to open highways; the drums sound like they bounce off the mountains and encircle the valley, the guitars twang like adrenaline rushes and the lyrics are optimistic and unapologetic. A safe pair of hands to tackle this responsibility over the past decade has been American singer-songwriter, Lissie (or Elisabeth Corrin Maurus).

The Rock Island native stormed onto the scene with her bluesy folk-rock debut album ‘Catching A Tiger’ in 2010. The record was critically acclaimed, with her musical direction and strong vocal being compared to that of Stevie Nicks – both solo and with Fleetwood Mac. The whole album is full of songs that would fit the scene I outlined in the opening paragraph; ‘In Sleep’ would add a melancholic, daydream vibe to the aesthetic whereas third single ‘Cuckoo’ would be a more literal take; less defection, more escapism. Since this debut, she has released three more studio albums, all of which are littered with great American road trip bangers.

Her latest release is ‘Watch Over Me (Early Years 2002-2009)’. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of previously unreleased songs she recorded prior to her debut coming out. It at times hints at the more atmospheric pop direction she began to take with her second album ‘Back To Forever’ and finally perfected on 2018’s ‘Castles’. But in general, the album showcases her country/folk roots with delicately crafted songs.

All Be Okay’ was chosen as the lead single from the album and it is a jovial ditty of campfire vibes. The ‘chopsticks’ piano and twangy guitar leads are strangely reminiscent of the score from Ratatouille’but this just adds to the charm factor. It is slightly ‘kitsch-country music’, it’s not groundbreaking and this argument could be levelled at other tracks on the record such as ‘Simple Woman’ and the title track. But, with maybe the exception of the unfinished sounding ‘Watch Over Me’, the other two are uplifting examples of a then-up-and-coming songwriter perfecting her craft.

Her songwriting prowess is on full display in this collection. Inheriting the ‘every woman’ dialogue from trailblazers such as Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette, Lissie exhibits an ear for powerful hooks wrapped in a melodrama of heartbreak and serenity. ‘Hey Boy’ has the same boiling rage reminiscent of ‘You Oughta Know’. It really showcases her powerful vocals, channelling the rawness of Janis Joplin. “You say you really dig my style, you really like those things that I do/But if you did I would think that maybe you would understand the way I move/My body when I’m dancing it’s not directed at you” she vents in the second verse, the whole song is a pure and heartfelt takedown. It’s not a new take, but it’s certainly a hot one.

As previously mentioned; songs such as ‘On My Chest’ and ‘Wishing On A Star’ wouldn’t feel out of place on any of her studio albums. They have enough melodic adult-orientated pop sensibility to have got regular airtime, but she still manages to stay true to her country roots to get enough Americana inflections for them to make their way onto a Ray Davis cover album.

Lissie possibly has been slightly overshadowed by fellow American goddess Lana Del Rey, whose breakthrough album ‘Born To Die’ came just two years after Lissie’s debut. However, this collection shows that she can give any artist who sounds like a vintage American sunset, a run for their money. ‘Call Out The Beast’ from this collection is as evocative as any early Lana ballad or anything by Rachael Yamagata.

Is this collection just for die-hard fans of Lissie? Maybe. She has stronger tunes in her studio canon. But could it soundtrack any great American road trip? Definitely. It’s also an interesting insight into her early development as a songwriter, as any one of these collections should be, and that credit is down to the song selection.

So when you plan your Route 66, Super 8 escapade and you worry about what to do when Chris Isaak’s ‘Heart Shaped World’ stops spinning, make sure to pack this album too. The lost pickup drivers will have a tear in their eye as you drive past, but it won’t be one sadness, more like pleasant envy. “There they go, ‘least America retains some of her charm”.


Tom Pritchard


Image: Watch Over Me Official Album Artwork


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