It would be easy to misconstrue Lissie. Slight and blonde, a pretty, guitar-playing slip-of-a-thing, you might easily take her for a sweet Midwestern girl, a freckled balladeer borne of milk and cookies and cornfields. More fool you. For all the flaxen hair and big blue eyes, this girl is smart and gutsy and tough, with a big old voice to match it: Stevie Nicks taking Neko Case by the scruff of the neck, Laurel Canyon prettiness stewed in campfire and bourbon; there is, after all, a certain vocal quality that only a decade of beer and cigarettes can bring.
She was born in Rock Island, Illinois, one of the Quad Cities, on the banks of the Mississippi River. It's the city that inspired Rock Island Line, and that bore Bix Beiderbecke, it's the stuff of spring floods and pick-up trucks and bona fide blue collar country music. In the spring of 2006 she moved to LA and started her own night with musician friends at a bar called Crane’s Hollywood Tavern in her neighbourhood, which she named Beachwood Rockers' Society. Little by little things seemed to come together; she recorded a five-track EP named Why You Runnin'
with her friend Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses that caught something of a fire in the States last year. She headed to Nashville to record with Jacquire King (who was fresh from working with the Kings of Leon). What came out of it was the bulk of her debut album, Catching A Tiger; 12 songs that range from bluesy-folk to unfettered pop and showcase both her remarkable voice and her songwriting chops.
California native Lissie Maurus makes a man sick to his stomach. Not because she's no good–rather the exact opposite. Catching a Tiger is a debut that dreams beyond typical new artist parameters. It is the work of a girl who looks, even with a fag hanging from her pale lips, like an alt-fashion model. But she sounds like one of the greatest female vocalists of a generation, arguably without even really trying.
High praise, but hang in there: qualification's coming. Covers have courted attention in certain quarters of the press–Lady Gaga here (watch on Youtube), Metallica there (watch on Youtube)–and a live duet with Ellie Goulding (watch on Youtube) hasn't harmed her chances of considerable exposure around the release of this 12-track collection of country-tinged radio rock (think late-60s, early-70s Laurel Canyon vibes, with more than a pinch of Fleetwood Mac, given a contemporary kick). But beyond the gimmicks there's a talent evident within seconds of opener Record Collector. Kitchen-cupboard percussion clatters, and then: "I'm tired of saying that I won't get lost ever again... Who knows, maybe I will." It's half-spoken, half-sung; it sounds angelic like few voices have this side of the millennium bug meltdown that never was. Not wholly celestial, grounded as it is in spit and sawdust, but reaching for an emotional connect with the listener that few new artists can aim for without sounding forced, pushed to the very extremities of their abilities.
That's why Lissie sounds special from the off: not once here does she enunciate uncomfortably, never overstretching to the detriment of the song in question. The way words tumble rapidly during the verses of When I'm Alone is nothing new, but they're offset by pre-chorus peaks that make evident the way she can ease up the octaves with a confidence that will always lift an arrangement, however ordinary it is in comparison to its vocalist. Which is good, as there are relatively pedestrian pieces here; tracks that in the hands of another would fade from the memory faster than an early-doors Big Brother evictee. Cuckoo is hard strums and shimmery production but ultimately hollow of design, and Worried About stomps itself into a go-nowhere circle–but both are brightened brilliantly by vivacious, vitalised vocals.
Lissie does not fully earn her an-artist-apart stripes with Catching a Tiger, but all the signs are here. Give the girl a second and she'll steal your heart; give her another album and she will, quite possibly, become untouchable. --Mike Diver
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