REVIEW: Lisa Mills’ “The Triangle” is Three Influences and Discoveries: Soul, Blues, and Southern Rock


I trust an artist who won’t acknowledge their influences about as much as I trust a sports commentator who won’t admit to having a favorite team. Someone inspired you so much that you chose to make your passion into your living, so let’s talk about it. Mississippi-born singer/guitar player Lisa Mills is more than happy to map out her influences, and she’s been most affected by three places – Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Memphis; and Jackson, Mississippi. Along with producer Fred Mollin, Mills traveled to all three cities in recording The Triangle, making musical and cultural discoveries along the way.

The Triangle largely divides its fourteen tracks (including a bonus cut) into the three different areas mentioned above, sticking to songs originally recorded in those cities. The first single, “Greenwood, Mississippi,” leads off the album. Originally recorded by Little Richard in the early 1970s, Mills and her band of veteran Alabama players give the song a bluesy feel punctuated by percussive guitar, while the lyrics flip the script of the usual tale – leaving a small town to find fortune in the big city (“Meet a lot of friends/But I leave ‘em behind”) – and instead quench longing by returning home. “I’d Rather Go Blind” (written by Ellington Jordan and most famously recorded by Etta James at FAME Studios) is a keys-based bluesy wail about watching love leave – “I’d rather go blind than to see you walk away from me” – and Mills’ Southern howl of a voice brings home the pain.

Tracks five through nine move along to Memphis and a brand-new backing band. “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” was penned by Little Milton but has become a favorite of jam bands (Gov’t Mule and the Jerry Garcia Band have covered it), so it fits – Lisa Mill’s vocal chops have been compared to Bonnie Raitt, but I get more of a Susan Tedeschi feel listening to this record. The track features a nifty bass line from Leroy Hodges before filling up the space with guitar, organs and horns (for our Americana fans, if you liked the bigger songs on Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, you’ll dig this section of the album).

Love in all its forms – good, bad, forbidden and enduring – inhabits most of the songs on The Triangle. Even on “Same Time Same Place” (penned by David Porter and Isaac Hayes), which carries a gospel feel, love (in this case, the illicit kind) takes center stage. The Memphis section wraps with “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” a tune made famous by Otis Redding but penned by Mills’ fellow Mississippian Roosevelt Jamison, who worked out of Memphis.

Tracks 10 through 13 were recorded in Jackson (with a new band), and the best moment on the album shows up here. “Someone Else is Steppin’ In” takes a song written by Denise LaSalle (from Mississippi) and recorded by Z.Z. Hill and changes roles. While Hill came home to find that he no longer HAD a home, Mills sings, “He came home this morning/Oh what a shock/When he found out his key/No longer fit my lock.” In Mills’ case, while her man was out playing, she found a much better way to fill her time – “Got a smile on my face/And you didn’t put it there.” Full of great guitar riffs, a greasy sax solo and Lisa Mill’s powerhouse of a voice, this version of “Steppin’ In” is where Southern rock, blues and soul inhabit one amazing musical space.

The Triangle was produced by Fred Mollin (who also played rhythm and acoustic guitars), recorded by Spencer Coats and John Gifford (Muscle Shoals), Boo Mitchell (Memphis) and Kent Brice (Jackson), mixed by “Teenage” Dave Salley and mastered by Greg Calbi. Muscle Shoals musicians include Clayton Ivey (keys), Bob Wray (bass), John Willis (lead electric guitar) and Justin Holder (drums and percussion). The Memphis band features Lester Snell (keys), Leroy Hodges (bass), Michael Toles (lead electric guitar), Steve Potts (drums and percussion) and Reverend Charles Hodges (Hammond B3 organ). The Jackson crew includes Sam Brady (keys), Mike Thorn (bass), Brennan White (lead electric guitar) and George Lawrence (drums and percussion). Horns on the album were arranged by Jim Hoke and feature Hoke on saxophones and Steve Herman on trumpet. Finally, the outstanding gospel-tinged background vocals were provided by Maureen Murphy and Kendra Chantelle.

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