Lilli Lewis – Americana
Athens, Georgia’s Lilli Lewis is the epitome of what great rootsy country/soul singers should be. The intonation, phrasing & technique is there. Her 13-cut Americana (Drops Oct 29–Red Hot Records) is her third LP recorded in New Orleans & produced by Lilli & Mark Bingham (guitar).
Lilli runs a tender finger along the rim of the modern folk/soul genre occupied by exceptional talents like Toshi Reagon, the inspirationally moving Soul Mission (“Table In the Wilderness”), & the poignant View From the Hill (“No Conversation”). Yes, many readers probably never heard these artists – but if you like Lilli, you should.
I love Lilli’s passion, spirit, enthusiasm & her performance brilliance. She covers many genres in this short set – “Wrecking Ball” is funky & mindful of Sly & the Family Stone. But it’s her voice that has that powerful inflection often heard by peers such as Mavis Staples who sent chills down my spine during her live classic performance of The Band’s “The Weight.”
Lilli shines on “Piece of Mine,” with its acoustic guitar picking, haunting fiddle & soulful lyrics. There’s no reason, ever, that a black artist can’t step into a country spotlight. Charlie Pride proved it decades ago, & more recently Darius Rucker. Country after all, like jazz & blues is a wholly American creation. Like it or not these 3 genres are cousins. Folk music is more based on a European tradition & Americanized in the hills of Appalachia. Its roots can be traced to Ireland, Scotland, England & Germany.
“Piece of Mine,” is rich & followed by the delightful “If It Were You,” that Lilli sings with exhilaration, sentimental tones, & vibrancy. Absolutely delicious.
Marketers would have difficulty pigeonholing Lilli’s music. But what she conveys with expertise is American music. Period. Lilli says that these are narratives that get left out of the standard folk-Americana circle. True. But more often than not Americana is often a rehash of song styles created before, rewritten, re-sung, reinterpreted & performed, seldom adding anything new. A genre that could be wide open to varied interpretations.
Lilli Lewis sees this opening & like a crafty pugilist — she’s hitting hard.
“One Shoe,” finds an authoritative Lilli in a soft Madeleine Peyroux/Billie Holiday seductive jazz-lite durable tone. Scatting at the end. Quite classy. “Fly,” & the piano-driven “Coffee Shop Girl,” are pensive ballads & well sung.
Lilli thrills even in her quieter moments with a rich vocal tone, relaxed, mature & silky. Her voice reminds me stylistically at times of Joan Armatrading especially with songs such as “The Great Divide” & her stunning coda “My American Heart.”
It’s a smartly designed CD with lyrics. Too many musicians to list (22). Musicians are clearly listed on the CD & at Bandcamp.
Need to listen to one LP all day? This is it. One of the year’s best.
Color image courtesy of Lilli Lewis/Nashville Scene. The 55-minute CD: available @ Bandcamp & http://www.folkrockdiva.com/2020/