CD Reviews

Roots Rock

Lissie Catching a Tiger (Fat Possum)

Perhaps you know her from her ridiculously good live cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” which has generated nearly a million views on YouTube. If not, you should check it out and then listen to Lissie’s debut full-length, which crackles with all the polished energy of a classic John Hammond production. Sure, there are a few weird curveballs, including skanky (as in reggae) opener “Record Collector,” that may not instantly satisfy. But once you reach the second track and album single “When I’m Alone,” with its smooth R&B bass line and nimble melody, Lissie’s voice will claw its way into your heart and stay there. Indeed, momentum builds with spooky pop-rocker “In Sleep” followed by the piano-based ballad “Bully,” which crescendos into a massive Phil Spector-Wall-of-Sound confection. Lissie explores her inner folkie with “Little Lovin’” and captures a ’60s girl group vibe with “Stranger.” A diverse effort that deserves attention; don’t let this animal slip by. ★★★★☆

Folk Singer

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan Hawk (Vanguard)

Why the Scottish former Belle & Sebastian cellist Isobel Campbell has grown so enamored of the musical hodgepodge genre known as Americana isn’t clear, especially given her twee-pop background. Regardless, the (now three) records she has cut with Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan are pretty solid, as long you have an affinity for Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood desert psychedelia. Like Nancy, Campbell isn’t a gifted vocalist, but she has a knack for expressing the naïve, wide-eyed vitality of a sun-flecked tumbleweed hurtling down a lonesome highway. The bluegrass doom stomp of “Snake Song” is hard to beat when she and her smoky-voiced male counterpart share the line “I’ve got poison/Just might bite you.” Other Lanegan-less moments may sound like subpar Mazzy Star (“To Hell & Back Again”), but overall Campbell’s songwriting instincts have broadened and deepened. “Cool Water,” for instance, possesses a stumbling yet alive standup bass pumping below her plea for a vague kind of spiritual quenching. Play this one very late at night. ★★★☆☆


Jenny and Johnny I’m Having Fun Now (Warner Bros.)

Vegas-raised Rilo Kiley lass Jenny Lewis and actor-musician boyfriend Johnathan Rice have crafted an entire album’s worth of bright, shining, Beatlesque rock, something Lewis’ previous musical projects (including her solo efforts) have been seemingly afraid to accomplish. From start to finish, every song here is an upbeat pop gem, even the oddly titled tracks “My Pet Snake” and “Just Like Zeus.” The twin, effervescent singles that drew attention to this record—the full-throttle “Big Wave” and the sharp yet simple “Scissor Runner”—fit nicely among the lovely harmony vocals and strummed acoustic guitar chords in “Switchblade,” and “While Men Are Dreaming,” which takes a nearly a capella approach that brings to mind Brian Wilson. “Animal,” meanwhile, with its clever, religion-citing lyrics, sticks to the brain with an intriguing chorus: “Show your teeth to everyone/Don’t let no one prove you wrong.” An ideal summer pop record; too bad it was released during the dog days. ★★★★☆

Suggested Next Read

Double Double Toil and Trouble


Double Double Toil and Trouble

By Rosalie Miletich

For anyone who hasn’t seen Shakespeare before, Insurgo Theater Movement’s Macbeth is a good introduction to the darker works of the Bard. The production is quite traditional in contrast with recent interpretations, such as those set in a modern restaurant or populated by punk biker gangs. Strobe lightning and rousing bagpipes set the scene for witchcraft and battle on the Scottish moors. Geo Nikols (most recently in Insurgo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Theseus) is rather young for the part of Macbeth, but he projects an air of grounded self-confidence.