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Lisa Mills - Tempered In Fire

www.lisamills.com

10 Tracks; 49:31

Lisa Mills was born in Mississippi and grew up on gospel and soul music. Her voice sounds like Janis Joplin without the cracking and cackling which is a good thing. Mills’ powerful voice earned her Joplin’s old position of lead singer with Big Brother & the Holding Company for three years of touring and she has also performed with Dr. John, Junior Wells, Albert Lee, and Delbert McClinton. Mills has produced a few albums of her own and Tempered In Fire on her own Mills Bluz label focuses squarely on her vocal talents, offering seductive takes on R&B, Blues, and Jazz.

Tempered In Fire starts off slow and sultry with “Tennessee Tears” which sets the overall tone of this album. It is a relaxed affair, like blues for lounging on a rainy afternoon. The arrangements are stark, the volume is low and Mills sings sometimes softly, sometimes sweetly, and sufficiently spirited to carry you through. Mills moves on to a stripped down, somewhat subdued take on Wet Willie’s “Keep On Smilin’,” with a fine horn accompaniment and a dynamic vocal performance. I never really understood the popularity of this song and it’s “serenity now” –style refrain. Wet Willie always seemed like the reliable but not particularly impressive second-string of the 70’s Southern Rock movement. Yet Mills covers two of their songs here, the other being “Country Side Of Life” which to me is a better choice if one had to be made. “Keep on Smiling” has a positive message which is nice but the hook is definitely lacking and it doesn’t get any better for me here. If you like the original and like singing along, you’ll probably like this take on it too.

“Blue Guitars Of Texas” shimmers like a hazy highway in 100 degree heat. The song sways sideways with economy of motion, suppressed by heat, barely breaking away from the lethargic beat until it gains a little life around the four and a half minute mark. “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and “Why Do I Still Love You” are as close as this album comes to being upbeat. “Why Do I Still Love You” in comparison to the rest of the album is a rambunctious rocker that breathes some life into an sedate album. “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” has a modified Bo Diddley beat and the guitars actually come alive in the choruses.

“My Happy Song” is anything but, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe singing the blues makes her happy as it does for many people out there. Blues can a soothing music and Tempered In Fire is a perfect soundtrack for a tranquil day. Lisa Mills does break through the tranquility often however, with powerful vocal explosions that might shake you off your hammock and make you wonder what you were thinking. The album closes with one of the albums most energetic vocal performances with “Someone Very Close.” The arrangement is stark and smoldering with passion, ending the album with a standout performance.

I must admit I’m a guitar fanatic and there is not much here for listeners like me. I was hoping to hear more from Andy Fairweather Lowe but he offers little more than competent rhythm work. I realize Mills’ voice is the focus point of the record but I was still surprised at the lack of lead guitar, or even harmonica or piano. Obviously Blues isn’t just about self-indulgent lead instruments, but they do add a lot of flavor and excitement when done well. There are some excellent horn parts on Tempered In Fire, but most of the songs retain their singer-songwriter structure, in the sense they could easily be arranged for one or two instruments - a vocalist and guitar for instance. While this may be a drawback for me, it won’t be that way for everyone. Altogether, Tempered In Fire is good album with dynamic vocals, judicious arrangements, and competent song writing. Lisa Mills in an artist we can expect to build great things upon the sturdy foundation she has created with this release.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.

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