Review: Lissie – Catching a Tiger (Sony UK/Fat Possum, 2010)
Listening to Lissie’s major label debut is a familiar experience, in that she’s not the first artist to surrender the organic qualities of her roots in the process of aiming for a larger audience. Where her debut EP, Why You Runnin’, turned deeply confessional moments into arresting outbursts of emotion, her follow-up feels forcedly written, sung and played. Where the debut offered the studio as a space in which Lissie could be heard singing, the album is filled with placeless overproduction that, aside from the quality of Lissie’s voice, sounds disappointingly like other pop records on the market. The edginess that made Lissie’s earlier vocals so magnetic is lost here as she’s forced to compete with gratuitously busy arrangements; it feels as if the producers didn’t trust her voice to keep listeners’ attention.
The double-tracked “Stranger” does provide a clever modern twist on Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller, but it’s only a moment’s respite from the album’s banal guitar solos and pop-rock arrangements. The minutes of deep artistic accomplishment belong to the songs brought forward from the EP: “Little Lovin’,” “Everywhere I Go” and “Oh Mississippi.” On these, Lissie’s voice is riveting, the arrangements build tension rather than volume, and the instruments create atmosphere rather than distracting complexity. Lissie’s moving, gospel-based homage to the mother river is perfectly set to a sparse arrangement of piano, chorus and distant tambourine, and the spine-tingling emotion shot into lyrics like “danger will follow me, now, everywhere I go” are unmatched by any of the newer performances.
It’s unclear whether Lissie felt the need to try something new, or her label wanted to produce something with a better shot at mainstream success. Rather than spending time developing a relationship with a sympathetic producer, the sessions shuffled their artist between Jacquire King, Bill Reynolds, Julian Emery and Ed Harcort, none of whom knew enough to lay back and let the power of Lissie’s voice – and more importantly, the spaces she creates – lead the way. It’s like hearing David Kahne’s airbrush of the Bangles after having grown to love the raw folk-rock of their David Leon-produced debut EP – disappointing. Those new to Lissie may not miss the unique edges and earthen folkiness, but the breathtaking artistic force Lissie unleashed on Why You Runnin’ hasn’t been caught here.
Interestingly, the acappella walk through the field isn’t part of the album track.