Following a 12-year stint living and performing in California, folk-pop artist Elisabeth “Lissie” Maurus decided that she was ready for something new, moved to Iowa and bought a farm. This challenging move and acclimation to Midwestern culture was accompanied by the release of her third album, “My Wild West,” last Friday.
The album is decidedly rawer than the rest of her catalogue, which is not surprising given the source of inspiration. Known best for her covers of other popular songs, such as her famed 2010 rendition of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” Lissie provides an intimate look into her mind as she parses through her transformational move, one track at a time. The album is both steady and soulful and; every track is just as good, if not better, than the one preceding it.
Originally from a small town in northern Illinois, Lissie has a voice that is anything but small: throaty, booming and reminiscent of Miley Cyrus or Stevie Nicks. She puts her whole body into singing each song, as evidenced by her live performances. If you are unfamiliar with Lissie, it may be due to the fact that huge, national tours are not high on her priority list, as she is an artist content with honing her craft for her own personal enjoyment. However, she did tour with Lenny Kravitz in 2008, and is currently touring in Western Europe.
“My Wild West” debuted at No. 9 on the iTunes chart in the U.K., compared to the No. 34 spot she initially occupied in the U.S. Arbitrary markings of popularity aside, “My Wild West” is a rock-solid album from an industry veteran that does a lot more than sound pretty; it takes listeners on a journey greater than the one from California to Iowa.
The first and last full-length songs on the album, “Hollywood” and “Ojai,” are the two cities in which Lissie split her 12-year Californian residency. The former is moody, featuring a powerful piano number a la Sara Bareilles. Lissie opens with the line: “Maybe it’s time that I was leaving / I got a long way to go / I’m through with all that make-believing,” contemplating both her time in California and impending 2,000-mile move. This musing gives way to Lissie belting: “Oh, Hollywood, you break my will like they said you would … You broke my heart just because you could.”
“Ojai” marks the album’s stripped down acoustic moment, featuring little more than Lissie’s voice and her guitar. Like the lyrics in “Hollywood,” those in “Ojai” read like a goodbye letter to the Golden State. As she croons, “Ojai / I don’t wanna leave you behind / but you know that I made up my mind,” listeners are left knowing that while she is ready for the next chapter in her life, California will always hold a special place in Lissie’s heart.
By the end of the album, Lissie has become confident in her decision to move. However, her initial indecision and questioning shines through in earlier, and arguably more prominent, tracks on the album. For instance, “Shroud” features beautiful harmonies, powerful vocals and a steady beat that will leave you tapping your foot if not bobbing your head. A good rainy day song, “Shroud” perfectly captures the essence of confusion and indecision. Lissie repeats, “I feel like I have lost my mind,” at the top of each chorus and more eloquently explains, “In a shroud / all my curtains have come down / And inside / I can barely mutter a sound.” This song speaks to, and offers hope to, anyone who has ever felt bogged down and unable to move.
Other noteworthy tracks include “Sun Keeps Risin’,” which has a Stevie Nicks vibe, “Daughters,” whose feminist message is wrapped in a poppy, upbeat melody, “Don’t You Give Up on Me,” which has a driving acoustic guitar/bass duo and “Hero,” for its relatable lyrics about finding yourself.
It is difficult to highlight any one song off this album as particularly exceptional, because not only are they individually stunning, but they each depict an important aspect of Lissie’s transformation. To successfully complete Lissie’s transnational journey with her, it is important that listeners follow her from “Hollywood,” to “Ojai,” and every track in between. “My Wild West” is an album for people in the process of making a change in their lives and in need of a soundtrack to aid in their reflection. It promises booming vocals, rhythmic tunes and provocative lyrics, all of which will narrate a journey through the listener’s own Wild West.
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