This album is, in a word: superb.
The music that comes from Bruce Watson’s affiliated studios and labels is virtually always eclectic and amazing, all versions of the much loved “Fat Possum” sound, and the Memphis cauldron has long been cooking up exciting and innovative music. That having been said, this album by Liz Brasher — Painted Image (Fat Possum)– is stand out superb even within that context, and is destined to be a noticeable hit this year for every one of the reasons any album deserves accolades.
A multi-instrumentalist — adept at guitar, 6 string bass, Fender Rhodes, and vocals too — Brasher rocks and plays the blues with soul and a southern gothic streak in a mix of songs that are mind-bending fantasia. Brasher is backed by Al Gamble (Nicki Bluhm, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Squirrel Nut Zippers) on organ and mellotron, Scott Bomar on electric and steel guitar, with horns by Marc Franklin and Kirk Smothers (who also plays sax), cello by Jonathan Kirkscey, and rhythm section Todd Kerstetter on bass and Lee Corum on drums. One song also features Kirkscey, Jennifer Puckett, Marisa Polesky, Jessie Munson and Wenyih Yu on strings. One look at that list and you know you’re in for hearing layers of exciting funkadelia here. The album was produced and engineered by Scott Bomar at Electraphonic Recording. Bomar has been involved with recent albums from J.D. Wilkes (Brasher sang backup vocals on his recent release), Shemekia Copeland, John Paul Keith, The Bo-Keys, and somewhat less recently, Al Green.
Painted Image is lyrically a spiritual journey through dark ritual, love, imprisonments and escape to healing cleansing over a powerful rock based gothic Memphis sound. The first song, “Blood of the Lamb,” is one of those spooky, creepy stunners that taps into our unconscious instincts surrounding witches and warlocks in woods in the dark of night. “One day by the river I saw the light… would you follow me … if I told you you’d have to lay it all down.” Next she spins the tale of longing to rest this “Body of Mine” over punctuated sax and organ and Brasher kicking it on ultra low 6-string bass. “Every Day” highlights a moment of being stuck: “you dug a single grave and placed me in the ground,” although the protagonist still vows committment, so we know it’s not over yet.
“The only thing keeping us apart is the air” in “Air,” pledges an eternal soaring love over soaring vocals: “look up, look up I will be right there.”
“Moon Baby” is a soulful crooner, again evoking mystical, astrological imagery of a night woman eluding the grasp of possession. Then “Cold Baby” takes the next step, by asking to be released. “Living Water” features shuffly rhythms and organ while she’s asking for a way out: “lead me to life.” “Love Feasts” comes across with big gospel style energy, as the protagonist is going “sideways trying to begin. If you see my enemy tell ‘im I don’t hate anymore. Take your body to the high priest, out of the darkness into the light.” At this point the album has come full circle back from the fire and brimstone of struggling with love and relationship and is heading back into the healing light.
The penultimate “Heaven and Earth” is a pure, rockin’ love song, “let’s rock this, let’s roll, you know I’ll follow anywhere you go. Heaven came down to meet her.” The title track and album closer worries that all she amounts to is a painted image with low cello. Listen all the way to the end and you’re guaranteed to want to possess this one. Do it.