What I keep thinking, over and over, listening to Lissie‘s album Catching A Tiger (which will be released on Tuesday, Aug. 17), is the Cher song, “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves.” I like that song, but there’s something odd about it rubbing elbows with the slicker, more modern aspects of Tiger.
The track “When I’m alone,” with its crisp, driving percussion, atmospheric guitars and wide creshendo of keys, is anything but 60s girl band. But “Record Collector” is all jangle and clank, Lissie’s girlish vocal launches into head voice on the choruses, making for an exciting rush, but the slowed-down narrative bridge is a bit of an energy drag.
“Little Lovin’” references in the early ‘70s, with its Sunday morning slow-build, soft-driving beat and the rhythmic chorus, “Gotta lot of love in, gotta lot love in, gotta lot of love in my heart.” The light-but-persistent guitar work recalls Nick Drake, but Lissie’s voice has the echoey power to fill a theater. It’s a strong song that breaks at midpoint into something darker, heavier, more Band of Skulls with its hand claps and churning low notes matched with the vocalist’s chant-like call of the wild. We’ve moved from the mellow innocence of Drake to the worldliness of Led Zeppelin IV.
“Stranger” returns to jangly girl-group insouciance, cheerily chastising some ribald admirer. “I asked nicely please get out of my face, excuse me I’m not yours, I am mine,” she sings, a Shangri-Las-era Avril Lavigne. It’s songs like this that reveal Lissie’s Achillies heel: Among Tiger‘s many high points, its sturdy musicianship and its skilled production, lurks a songwriter who has yet to fully come into her own.
But about the production: A number of the songs — “Little Lovin’,” “Everywhere I Go,” “Bully” and “Stranger” — were produced at Asheville’s Echo Mountain by Band of Horses bassist/former Asheville resident Bill Reynolds. Reynolds produced all of Lissie’s five-track EP, Why You Runnin’, the forerunner to Fat Possom-released Tiger. Reynolds met Lissie while both were living in L.A. During that time, Illinois-born Lissie put together a singer/songwriter residency at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern that came to be known as the Beachwood Rockers Society. Keep that in mind and read this 2006 quote culled from the Scrappy Hamilton (since turned Truth & Salvage Co.) Myspace page: “Scrappy Hamilton is still rocking Los Angeles. We are currently working on creating a great night of music at a small club here in LA, called Cranes Tavern. Every wednesday we bring together musicians we have met in Beachwood and the general hollywood area to collaborate in a blend of acoustic/songwriter, and rock and roll music. We call the night Beachwood Rockers Society and after about 6 months of wednesdays we have created and great list of artists and a loyal gathering of listeners.” (Check out pictures/look for familiar faces here.)
So that’s the back story to Lissie and, like her buddies in Truth & Salvage Co. and Band of Horses, she’s come a long way in the last few years. From playing songwriter nights in an adopted hometown to a label deal and a tour (Lissie’s dates include Lilith Fair shows), Lissie’s covered a lot of ground, and Tiger reflects that. Both geographically and stylistically — almost as if she’s trying to showcase her entire arsenal of sounds and inspirations in the space of a dozen songs. One of the most compelling tracks is “Worried About,” which leads in with the squeak of guitar strings and electronic buzz behind the singer’s easy, up-front vocal. It builds quickly with slinky layers — modern keys, drums with effects — and breaks at the chorus, “Last four years of my life I’ve thought about you pretty much every 15 seconds,” repeated over and over. It has a great tension between catchy, hooky pop and weird, stalker-obsession implications, the sort of cool/weird juxtaposition that gives a song (“Roxanne,” “Jesse’s Girl,” “Last Dance With Mary Jane”) longevity. That songs — and others: Barring a few missteps Tiger is a strong album — suggests that as far as Lissie’s come since her Illinios-to-L.A.-to-Fat Possom trajectory, give her a few more years and you’ll be saying “I knew her when.”