Monday, January 9, 2012

Tempered in Fire reviewed by Mark Thompson

Tempered in Fire
Lisa Mills
10 tracks/49:33

Born in Mississippi and now residing in Alabama, Lisa Mills had to travel to the U.K. and Europe to jump-start her career. She has a powerful, sultry voice that drips southern soul, leading some writers to liken her as a female version of Otis Redding. Mills does her best to validate that comparison on her cover of Redding's “These Arms of Mine”. Her immaculate phrasing  and pleading tone are guaranteed to grab at your heartstrings. Equally fine is her version of the Wet Willie hit, “Keep on Smiling”. The rhythm section of Ian Jennings on double bass and Eric Hughes on drums set an appropriate groove while Nick Payne on saxes and Matt Winch on trumpet add an extra boost of energy to the track.

Mills explores her country roots on “Blue Guitars From Texas”, a smokey ballad that features the massive tones from Andy Fairweather Low, who should be familiar to blues fans as a long-time member of Eric Clapton's band. The tension builds throughout the song until Mills cuts through it at the end with brawny vocalizing that demonstrates why Sam Andrew selected her to be the lead singer for a three year stretch in Big Brother & the Holding Company. The title cut is another masterful performance as Mills uses her impressive vocal range to express a love that has stood the test of time.

“I'll Never Fall in Love Again” is a rockabilly rave-up powered by a driving beat from Hughes and  ringing chords from Low's guitar. Mills turns a weaker track, “Why Do I Still Love You?”, into something worthwhile with a closing segment that features more energetic vocalizing. The smoldering emotions revealed on “My Happy Song” are a far cry from those indicated by the title. Mills once again impresses with passionate singing that never goes over the top.

The opening cut, “Tennessee Tears”, is a slower-paced tune about leaving home. “Countryside of Life” is a rocker that takes a while to build up some steam but once Mills cuts loose, it is clear why she was a worthy successor to the Janis Joplin legacy. At one point, she suddenly unleashes a stirring cry that signals the depth of her feelings.

There are plenty of female vocalists out there vying for your attention. Lisa Mills is one of the best that I have heard. Besides her magnificent voice, this release features an impressive batch of songs, strong support from the band and top quality sound. Take the time to check this out !!!

- reviewed by Mark Thompson

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