Lissie – Catching a Tiger review (and LP of the Week/2010)

Lissie, real name, Elisabeth Maurus, was born in Rock Island, Illinois, in the heart of the American Midwest. She plays folk tinged with country on occasion.

Catching a Tiger, Lissie’s debut has numerous down tempo tracks, yet as a whole it feels like a very upbeat record. After hearing her excellent EP, Why You Runnin’, released on Fat Possum, it took a few good listens for Catching a Tiger to fully grow on me. Now that it has, I can hear how good it is.

Lissie has a voice that is smooth, yet has a certain rawness to it that is teeming with Americana. It certainly helps when she sings about the Midwest and American places in general (“Appalachian farmer”, “Mississippi moonchild”, “By Georgia pinin’ declinin'”, “Fightin’ Illini”, “Gonna move to N’arleans singin’ psalms”, etc. all in the ingenious “Little Lovin'”. And of course a song about the Mississippi, “Oh Mississippi”). I am fortunate enough to say I know the Quad Cities (Rock Island Moline, IL, and Davenport and Bettendorf, IA), where she is from, as I have visited, so I know the role the Mississippi plays there. Where it flows from east to west (“But ’round these parts, you’re westward bound”).

The record (this album by the way would be awesome on vinyl) starts with the hauntingly good “Record Collector”. With a cacophony of interesting, fitting sounds. Similarly, “When I’m Alone” borders between a down tempo and a mid tempo track, at about 120 beats per minute and is in D Minor (had to look it up, I can’t quite pick out the key, yet..), making for a nice track, and it is bass (guitar) heavy. In fact, there is a quite a lot of tracks in minor keys, which actually suit her voice well (“Bully” as well). To be fair, her songs in a major key are awesome too (“Cuckoo”for one). “Everywhere I Go”, which is apparently in G Major, toes the line perfectly between major and minor. It is another song that is hauntingly good, many thanks to the simple yet very (very) effective concert bass drum accents, and plenty more in the mix, from the obvious electric guitar to the acoustic guitar, and Lissie’s overdubbed vocals. To borrow a term from a friend, it is very dense (he used it referring to another song). Unbelievably good song.

Lissie herself has writing credits on all the songs, and penned a couple all on her own as well. She also plays guitar. Musicians are not credited in the liner notes, so I cannot tell where she is playing to be certain, as “In Sleep” closes with a fairly significant guitar solo. And as mentioned above, I would love to see the credits for “Everywhere I Go”.

I cannot explain why exactly, but “Stranger” feels like a perfect song for the Quad Cities, perhaps not the lyrics. It is an impressive country tinged folk song with a great beat. As is the case for “Oh Mississippi” (song for the Quad Cities) even if it is more of a ballad for the Mississippi, yet does refer to the Quad Cities as I mentioned above.

“Little Lovin'” for a long time was my favourite Lissie song, and it is still great, with its great lyrics (“I’m gonna get to heaven, I’m gonna count to seven”), and simple beat derived from a bass drum pretty much the entirety of the song, to the spectacular coda. However, the entire album sparkles. it may me another cliché, but the album from start to finish is genius, while each individual track works great on its own.

Even though my quasi lists have been made for the best of 2010, and I did include Lissie’s debut, I’d have this in a one way tie for best album of 2010.

Highly recommended, no doubt about it.

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