04 June 2014

Review Riff: FURTHER SOUTH by Nisha

Further South
Electric Lilly (2012)

Before I even listened to Nisha's Further South, I knew I’d hear smart and sturdy vocals.  In the early 1980s she and I shared a few of the same college theatre courses and often bumped into each other during the 1990s.  

So, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her sing many times throughout our 30-some-odd year history. 

After I listened to the 2012 Electric Lilly release, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the one name musician has fully come into her own as a singer-songwriter and written an impressive collection of musical theatre based songs.

Doo-wop soul encased in off-Broadway skin, “Never Goin' Back To Memphis” is an emotional eulogy that best illustrates her ability to weave personal, character-driven story lines into melodies that naturally generate dramatic lyrics:

She could always make a house a home/Through troubled waters sing the blues/I guess that you might say she paid her dues/And through the years she would smile and sing away the pain/for her it always poured when it would rain

Vivid imagery is a hallmark of the title track as well.  An easy breezy ode to California sunshine and cross-country road trips, it features surf-pop guitar fills joined with a touch of Nashville country twang that takes you back to the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack and makes going somewhere you've never been a really cool ride.

Even cooler than a cross-country road trip, “Keep Me Warm”, a poetic proclamation of love and acceptance, details the sensitive afterglow of lovemaking.  Sandra Castillo of the San Diego Troubadour Newspaper said it “has flourishes of Melissa Etheridge” and she’s right. 

Nisha's vocal range is in the same vicinity as Etheridge’s and the tune shares the same crescendo-building form and open-arm longing as “Come To My Window” and “I’m The Only One” (Yes I Am, Island 1993).

By far the boldest track on the CD, “Lost One” combines the anthemic roots of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with the rebellious swagger of Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield”.  3 minutes and 7 seconds into this harsh examination of contemporary homelessness, drummer Bill Ray (Ike Turner), sounds the call.  His military drummer boy hits drive the army of Have Nots out onto the battlefield of social injustice, with the color-bearer nearby wielding a tattered American flag.

At 3 minutes and 48 seconds, Peter Bolland’s guitar licks lead the charge into battle and by the 4 minute mark he declares victory in a way that is so right, you’ll want to play the entire section over and over again just to feel exactly how right it is.

Multi-instrumentalist and project producer Sven-Erik Seaholm’s bass doesn’t anchor the track the way a bass line normally does.  This one consists of two half sections where the bass blends into the lower tones of the rhythm guitar part.  One half buried bass, plus one half lower tones equals one whole bass line.  It’s an interesting way to split the rhythm section and works for this particular effort.

The bass line on “Love’s Angel” speaks loud and clear (think “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles).  There’s no call and response on this gritty blues number, but it isn't necessary.  The Ohio native's character-driven lyrics place us, like a fly on the wall, in the bordello with Daddy who, after a long search, finds his Baby there wearing a black garter and a bra.  Vivid imagery, tailor made for the theatre.

Nisha is indeed a smart singer and a sturdy vocalist.  No vocal gymnastics or scale runs here.  Just a smoky contralto’s belly-of-the-note approach to phrasing that gets her point across, the end result of which is an impressive collection of skillfully crafted songs.    

Must Hear:  “Love’s Angel”, “So He Won’t Marry You”

CD cover art courtesy of
Nisha Catron and Electric Lilly

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