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Lissa Hattersley: reviews

My Ten Favorite Albums of 2009 Without discovering an unknown gem, any given year feels a bit like a dud. Luckily in 2009 Lissa Hattersley's album was so undercover even the hometown crowd in Austin might have missed it. That would be a real shame, because this lady will lull you into happiness and then turn around to send you spinning toward the skies. She may have started in Greezy Wheels, one of the early hippie-country hybrids, but her heart has always been out in the hills. The swing noir of her songs goes deep quick, and Hattersley's voice is an absolute gem precisely because she doesn't have to ask. She knows.


Lissa Hattersley How I Spent My Summer Vacation
While her sister-in-law's fiddle on Jimmy Van Heusen "Shake Down the Stars" assumes a Western swing blues groove atop which Lissa Hattersley's sultry pace makes you thirsty for something Southern with crushed ice and fresh mint, don't assume How I Spent My Summer Vacation is another spoke off Greezy Wheels. More June Christy than Patsy Cline, Hattersley inhabits the sweet spot between both, while Creative Opportunity Orchestra mainstay John Mills single-handedly tips the singer's first solo LP toward the former's populist jazz. Mills and Jon Blondell on trombone cordon off opener "Love Is a Crime Scene" by the Greezy Wheel himself, brother Cleve Hattersley, while beat sensei Barry "Frosty" Smith leaves a chalk outline around the bodies. Tiptoeing follow-up "Talking in Your Sleep" then adds Zhenya Kolykhanov's balalaika as Mills' sprightly tenor feeds back into his and Blondell's back-alley brass refrain. The saxist's braying tenor/baritone weave crochets "There's No Fool." Lissa's no fool either, "Moonstruck Love" lit in a deeply 1970s Slowhand mood, though it's "Fugitive Animal," in which she voices the song's title character "howling at the moon" in the heart of a shadowy urban landscape, that bests Summer's lead-off cut as the album's dark horse, or rather dark mutt. Chris Gage, who gets props for production aid on the disc, provides the beast with just the right spotlight of electric, slide, and acoustic guitar. His sole accompaniment, with Cara Cooke's harmonica, seats Lissa's languid take on Ned Sublette's "Nightworker's Song (Blue Time)." Beach, back porch, or basement speakeasy, Lissa Hattersley's postcard from the plains of vocal chamber intimacy arrives just in time for Austin's long, dark night of heat relief.

***.5  (three and a half stars)

Lissa Hattersley
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Kimbark Road Records

Excavating the musical world these days is as exciting as ever. From the unlikeliest of places come gems of such brightness they can only be described as brilliant. Lissa Hattersley spent the swerving ‘70s in the Austin group Greezy Wheels, which got thrown in with the redneck rock set but were in actuality a psychedelic swing band with rural roots branching out all over the place. Hattersley was one of their spirited lead singers, and her sweet voice belied an earthy sense of gospel-fueled rhythm & blues. All these years later she has finally made a solo album, and what a kick it is. Her voice has a timeless quality to it, impossible to pigeonhole into a single style or time zone. What really comes across is her inner beauty, a sultry playfulness that makes it seem no matter what comes her way she’ll take it to the sunny side of the street. “Easy Reverie” is a striking original that could just as easily be written in the ‘30s, sung at a Café Society speakeasy in downtown New York, while “Moonstruck Love” is a soul song that lets Hattersley shine at her brightest. Some of the best musicians in Texas are on these sessions, and while there is an easeful joy in every song, the years of experience of all the players always feels like seasoned professionals are ably on the case. The singer grew up on the East Coast before heading for Texas, and the sense of sophistication running through the sound makes an intriguing case of yin and yang, uptown and back home, with Lissa Hattersley our gracious vocal host taking us to the other side. For a glimpse into a musical world that may be off the beaten path but promises a spirited journey, How I Spent My Summer Vacation could be the best travel tip you receive all season.
— 06/24/2009