Lissie – Why You Runnin’
Lissie Maurus is a folk-rock singer from the west Illinois border town of Rock Island. Although there’s a rustic Midwestern edge to her Americana, her transplantation to Los Angeles, and national and international gigs have elevated her music beyond coffee-house strumming. Her voice pulls you in close with confessional introductions and then attacks with arresting outbursts of emotion. The exclamation of “danger will follow me now everywhere I go, angels will fall on me and take me to my home” finds her bending back from the microphone to make room for a lungful of emotion. The empty spaces in the studio add presence and dimension as she steps back to keep the needles from pinning red with her fervor.
There’s a bluesy edge in her vocals, not unlike Joan Osborne, but with the earthier, more distracted air of Edie Brickell. The productions often arc from contemplative openings to emotional conclusions. “Little Lovin’” rolls through its first half with only a bass drum (and your toe-tapping) to keep the beat, but a deep bottom end rolls in, Lissie’s vocals rise and hand-clapping rhythms spur the vocals to soar into full-throated scatting. The abandon with which she vocalizes has the improvisational verve of a live jam, blowing past the artifice of studio recording. Her cover of Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells” turns its despondency from hangdog to forlorn, and the original male-perspective lyrics (“you wanted me to see you change your name”) gain additional layers when sung in a woman’s voice.
An ode to Lissie’s native river, “Oh Mississippi,” is sung with a gospel piano and overdubbed choir, and though it may remind you of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” it turns into a fervent elegy for the failing industrial heart of America. Here too Lissie hits a second gear to bring the song to a tremendous emotional climax. Bill Reynolds’ production is spare but filled with touches – a tambourine or a tom-tom riff – that provide instrumental accents that complement the vocal dynamics. He leaves Lissie up-front, where listeners can hang on to both her emphatic notes and dramatic pauses. A full LP recorded in Nashville with a pickup band and producer Jacquire King is apparently sitting in the can, but it’s hard to imagine it captured Lissie in such disarmingly naked moments as this brilliant five-song EP.