Lissie: Catching a Tiger

RIYL: Patty Griffin, Brandi Carlile, Kings of Leon

51kNc0uvmaL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]The sign of a great song is that you can’t just listen to it once. The melody gets stuck inside your head and you keep going back for repeated  listens — five, 10, sometimes 20 times in a row. The sign of a great album is that it’s full of great songs you can’t stop listening to it no matter how much you tell yourself you should pause and catch your breath. Of course, great albums with great songs take a long time to get through, because you’re continually repeating the first song until you’re finally ready to move on to track two. The process begins all over again until a whole week has passed before you’ve finally gotten through an album that should have only taken an hour. Such is the case with Catching a Tiger, the full-length debut from freckle-faced Midwesterner Lissie, aka Elisabeth Maurus. Words can’t express how wonderful and exciting this album is.

Lissie has a voice that is soulful, aching, and raw; it can do just about anything she commands it to. The opening track is a huge, Tarantino-sized soul song with Italian western overtones called “Record Collector”; here, Lissie brings Duffy to mind, as well as on the splendid ’60s girl group pop-style song “Stranger.” However, as you listen to the album, it becomes obvious very quickly that Lissie is capable of any genre, be it adult alternative (as on the intricately worded, immediately catchy “When I’m Alone”) or blues rock (the heartbreaking “In Sleep,” which features a killer two-minute guitar solo that warps the song up to its bitter end). “Bully” is a slice of ’60s-ish big old pop bombast; “Little Lovin’” a folksy ballad with a strong backbeat that crescendos to a triumphant finish; and “Cuckoo” is just about one of the most perfect reflections of adolescence I’ve heard in ages. When I listen to that particular track I can’t help but think of my young daughter and the formative years ahead of her. I only hope that she can find a song that resonates with her as I’m sure “Cuckoo” will connect with a crop of young girls just becoming young women. By the time the album wraps up with quiet hymn “Oh Mississippi” (co-written with Ed Harcourt), you won’t be thinking of Duffy anymore, but of Patty Griffin, one our generation’s most remarkable and inspiring singers.

Produced by Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Modest Mouse) and Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses, the songs on Catching a Tiger are arranged like a perfect concert set list. Three powerful uptempo numbers to pull you in, then a slow ballad, followed by a moderately fast song that leads into a couple more high-energy songs before another ballad. You get the picture. Catching a Tiger flows like the classic albums we have etched in our minds, the ones we return to time and time again as the years go by. Perhaps this is the one record your children will claim as their own and recall some 10 to 15 years from now? While each and every song is produced to superlative effect, with beautifully layered harmonies over subtle guitar parts and driving rhythm sections, tying everything together is Lissie’s amazing voice and her heartfelt, truthful lyrics. While there are a slew of female singer-songwriters releasing new albums this year, most of them seem to get stuck in one mode, primarily the type of atmospheric ballads you hear playing in the background on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Lissie, like the aforementioned Griffin and the exceptional Brandi Carlile, challenges herself on each song, using her gifted vocals for greatness. She knows when the song requires her to hold back, and when it requires her to belt it out. And when she does belt it out, my God, it can be chilling. If I don’t hear another record this year, I’ll be fine because Catching a Tiger has so much power, beauty and heart that it’s going to take me a while to fall in love with something else. It is most definitely one of the best albums of this year — and possibly years to come. (2010, Fat Possum)

Visit the Lissie MySpace page

Purchase the album through Amazon (seriously, this is a must buy)