Slinky and Sultry, Fierce and Funky
Let’s just face facts: Lisa Fischer may well be the most exquisite singer in the world. That’s not hyperbole; that’s just observation.
Taking the stage at Nashville’s City Winery, Fischer closed her eyes, took some deep breaths, and sank into the space as her voice wandered around some ambient vocalizations before easing into a gorgeously tender rendering of Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.” Fischer noted after that, “I always start with that one. It helps to center me.” From that centering, Fischer and Grand Baton — comprised of JC Maillard, Aidan Carroll, and Thierry Arpino — launched into the sultry blues of Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down” and it was ON.
Maillard gets credit for all of Fischer’s arrangements, including his deft turning of Railroad Earth’s “Bird in a House” from a chunky bluegrass romp into a playful ska groove, during which he stretched way on out when it came time for a guitar solo — Fischer’s sheer delight in the music and the musicianship becoming more evident with each passing note. And, if there was anyone left in the packed house that wasn’t a believer, Fischer’s electric and electrifying take on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” showed them the light. The evening’s first standing ovation followed in short order. (Quite a few more would follow.)
The evening’s first Rolling Stones cover also followed, in the form of “Jumping Jack Flash.” Built on a funky, jazzy foundation with a world beat overlay, the arrangement found Maillard tearing up the resonant SazBass and Fischer throwing down the tribal dance moves. The opening strains of her long-ago single “How Can I Ease the Pain” were met with much more crowd enthusiasm and its closing coda earned another round of applause-laden leg stretches.
Fischer’s “Fever” started off gorgeously slinky before taking a sharp left turn into a Latin-infused interlude and insane Maillard solo. This was the only piece of the bunch that felt a bit disjointed and rather too indulgent on his part. Fischer, though, loved it, responding, “I feel kinda hot and swampy,” then singing a Nelly riff to accentuate her point. Everything got right back on track with a fierce cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” that included, seemingly, the highest highs any singer can sing. The floored audience, yet again, rose to its feet.
Because she has been touring with them for 25 years now, the Rolling Stones must need figure prominently in Fischer’s musicality which is why the set rounded out with a trio of Stones tunes. First up, a slap-bass intro led into “Miss You” during which Fischer roamed through the audience taking photos with fans. Expressing deep gratitude to Merry Clayton for “giving me a home,” Fischer and company tread lightly into a haunting version of the ever-relevant “Gimme Shelter,” making space for Carroll to do his thing just right on the upright bass. A fourth standing ovation. For the encore, Fischer rode off on “Wild Horses” and, of course, got another rousing ovation for her trouble.
Although her voice is the hub around which all else spins, Fischer is a full-body singer, relying on everything in her and around her to relay her message — her mic technique is incomparable, allowing her to do things with her voice that are inexplicable and intoxicating. Leaning into her reverb-soaked second mic for even one word creates an amazing effect that rings out through the room. Even more astounding, the players of Grand Baton matched her energy and skill at every twist, every turn, and it was all absolutely breathtaking to behold.