Monday, November 7, 2011

Lissie Covers Up With Flowers

Any time I hear the words "cover EP" I cringe a little bit and my stomach does some flops. It usually means that a band doesn't have enough material to make another album and then they do it anyway. But then every once in a great while, someone proves they have serious chops.

Elizabeth Maurus a.k.a. Lissie does exactly that on the Fat Possum Records/Sony U.K. release of Covered Up With Flowers. Consisting of the band's five favorite songs to cover during live performances, the EP rocks.

Lissie brings her smokiest voice to bear on the unlikely collection of songs by Kid Cudi, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Joe South, and Nick Cave. Pulling all five out of their genres and recasting them as singer-songwriter indie folk rockers, the EP showcases her rawer potential while still honoring the originals she covers.

Covered Up With Flowers uncovers the real strength of a vocalist to watch. 

I never considered myself a fan of this singer-songwriter and skipped pretty gingerly over her debut. At the time, she was probably best known for a few television show tracks, which is what fast tracked her stardom along with plenty of collaborative breaks — her first two in 2005, one with Peter Dante and another with DJ Harry. But this set of five really gives me a hint of what Lenny Kravitz heard to take an interest and what her growing live performance fan base hears on a regular basis.

As a folk pop singer, Lissie is decent. And yet, these covers suggest she might be stronger as an indie folk rocker, with the cover selection inviting her to roar a bit more. There is no better song that proves it than her cover of Kid Cudi's Pursuit Of Happiness, which adds more power to the song while showcasing Cudi's talent as a lyricist.

While the cover of Cudi's song is hands down the favorite track and the strongest to open the EP, Lissie also powers up Bad Romance by Lady Gaga as a power rock ballad that breaks into a driving beat. And her cover of Nothing Else Matters by Metallica works too. The song is recast as brooding folk rock, adding smoky tones to a growing repertoire.

As a longtime Metallica fan, the cover doesn't eclipse the perfection of the original, one of the few written by James Hetfield (and Lars Ulrich). But I can't think of a single cover that sounds better (most of several dozen by others have been awful).

The rendition by Lissie adds a pouting sexiness to the song, something no one else could have ever imagined it might possess. She might as well be singing it in answer to Hetfield, who originally wrote it while he was on the phone with his girlfriend. It's a keeper, for Lissie and Metallica fans alike.

The last two covers are mixed, one overlooked and the other overrated.

Also impressive is The Ship Song, in which Lissie elevates over the original by Nick Cave. She brings more darkness into the mix, maybe more darkness than anything Cave has done since he was fronting The Birthday Party. She makes his song sad, hypnotic, and addictive.

Ironically, it's Games People Play that is more popular (but not nearly as good as the The Ship Song). Games People Play was originally by the strong-voiced Joe South. Lissie manages to resurrect the 1969 classic that was remade famous by the Alan Parsons Project. By that, I mean people seem to like it. I don't.

Sure, it's a fun cover with a little country flair, but it also pins down what she often misses with her music. It's upbeat, but plods along at the same pace, leaving nothing exceptional to stand out, no matter how the masses might think so.

Still, the overall EP tells me that Lissie has a real opportunity here. After this release, she can continue to play it safe or challenge herself.

Covered Up With Flowers By Lissie Hits Highs At 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With luck, Covered Up With Flowers will mark a transition for the folk-pop singer toward a harder sound tackling more challenging compositions. With more variation added to whatever original material might be next, she has the potential to be someone great. Or she could play it safe, cutting top 40 tunes that will never come close to having one-tenth of impact of her childhood idols. That was Nirvana.

Covered Up With Flowers is available on iTunes. Covered Up With Flowers [explicit] is also on Amazon. While the EP was originally set be released as a digital exclusive, Barnes & Noble has listed the CD release, due out Nov. 8.

Her career is definitely worth watching, but I might add that she is not the "new" Stevie Nicks. Whoever floated that comparison first is an idiot. It might have been the Evening Standard. And if it was, then all I can say is stop it, Rick Pearson. Just stop it. No one can touch Nicks. And Lissie is her own artist too.
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