REVIEWS, PRESS RELEASE, and BIO for Lissy Walker's Life Is Sweet
"A sheer delight from start to finish. Walker purrs, coos and swaggers sultrily through The Great American songbook...beautiful."
~The Absolute Sound
"Jazz, folk, and country are fused beautifully on Lissy walker's debut album...Emotional, lovely, dreamy, sweet...Lissy's vocals are simply beautiful."
"...distinctive and emotive...a singer to watch-and to listen-for..."
~All About Jazz
"...an eclectic riff on the vocal jazz tradition..."
Review by Wilbert Sostre, JazzTimes
May 3, 2010
Musicians: Lissy Walker (vocals), John R. Burr (piano), Scott Nygaard (guitar), Jon Evans (bass), Scott Amendola (drums), Steven Bernstein (trumpet, Philip Worman (cello), Dave Ellis (sax)
Is Lissy Walker a jazz singer with folk influences? Or is she a folk singer with jazz influences? Who cares, as long as she is good. And Lissy Walker is really good.
Jazz, folk and country music are fused beautifully on Lissy Walker's debut album, Life is Sweet. Lissy moves convincingly among these music genres with her sweet voice and deeply emotional interpretations.
Life is Sweet starts with the classy arrangement of the Johnny Mercer I Remember You. Lissy shows her jazzy side on this one, singing behind the beat, a phrasing style used by Billie Holiday and other great jazz singers.
The arrangement of Irving Berlin's How Deep is the Ocean is definitely jazz but with a touch of country. Lissy's phrasing although show some country influences but the bluesy piano fills and solos by John Burr are pure jazz.
I love how Lissy plays with the melodies on Waters of March. I must have heard a hundred versions of this Jobim classic, both english and portuguese, but this is without a doubt one of my favorites english versions.
I have never been a big fan of country music, but Lissy might change my mind with her wonderful interpretation of What'll I Do, I Wish You Love and In The Wee Small Hours. Emotional, lovely, dreamy, sweet, Lissy vocals are simply beautiful.
With folk vocals and arrangements and a ragtime piano, Let Me Go reminds me at times of the music of Madeleine Peyroux. Moonbeam Song and Celluloid Heroes are also folk songs, but this time the arrangements and Lissy's phrasing are reminiscent of one of my favorites folk bands and singer, Margo Timmins of the Cowboys Junkies.
Nothing country or folk about More Than You Know and Irving Berlin's Isn't This A Lovely Day. The arrangements and vocals sound like classic old jazz, proving Lissy and her band really can swing.
There is a gospel feel in John Burr piano playing and Lissy soulful vocals on Saturday Sun, adding yet another influence to Lissy Walker impressive debut album.
Review by Bruce Lindsay, AllAboutJazz
May 13, 2010
Life Is Sweet is the debut from Berkeley, California-based vocalist Lissy Walker. In an increasingly crowded pool of female jazz singers it's important to stand out from the norm: two things about Life Is Sweet ensure that Walker can do that. Firstly, there is Walker's song selection—a tasteful and unusual mix of standards and more left-field but high quality tunes. Secondly, there's her voice—a subtle but unmistakable hint of country music gives it a distinctive and emotive quality. At times, its fragility suggests a slight lack of confidence—a pity, because Walker has much to feel confident about.
Walker's band helps things along, too. The core quartet is consistently good, while the guest musicians, especially cellist Philip Worman, add just the right touches with their performances. Any singer who records standards from the Great American Songbook needs to bring something new to their interpretations, and the album's opening tune, Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger's "I Remember You," shows that Walker can do just that. The arrangement, by pianist John R Burr, features a delicate trumpet part from Steven Bernstein and propulsive but light drums from Scott Amendola. Walker's vocal hangs back a little, resisting Amendola's invitation to hurry along and, instead, creating a relaxed, almost laidback approach to the melody.
Elsewhere, a distinct country feel pervades many of the tunes, to great effect. When singing about love lost or found, the country music aesthetic of "three chords and the truth" is often ideal, and Walker and her band apply it with great skill. Burr's piano on "How Deep is the Ocean" is a direct descendant of Floyd Cramer, for example, while on Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?," voice and cello combine in a delightful country waltz.
Walker's left-field choices also include Randy Newman's "Let Me Go" and Ray Davies' (The Kinks) "Celluloid Heroes." In "Days" and "Waterloo Sunset," Davies wrote two of the finest of all pop songs; unfortunately, "Celluloid Heroes" pales in comparison, and the clarity of Walker's vocal only serves to highlight its unconvincing lyrics. Harry Nilsson's "The Moonbeam Song" and Nick Drake's "Saturday Sun" are another story. Walker gets to the heart of both songs, delivering the album's most affecting performances. "The Moonbeam Song" features Jon Evans' lap steel guitar, while "Saturday Sun" sees the quartet joined by saxophonist Dave Ellis and Hammond organist Julie Wolf. Neither song is particularly well-known, but both are inspired choices; the arrangements ensuring that the poignancy of the lyrics is echoed and amplified by the musicians' sensitive performances.
With Life Is Sweet, and with the help of an empathetic and talented band, Lissy Walker imbues her jazz phrasing with a country edge, and establishes herself as a singer to watch—and to listen—for.
Lissy Walker is a jazz singer, but her wide-ranging musical interests set her apart from your average chanteuse. She’s been an actress and singer for most of her life and brings a dramatic sensibility to her jazz vocals with nuances of folk, pop, and country in her performances. “When I started working on the arrangements for Life Is Sweet, I wanted to bring together all the things I like about American music,” Walker explains. “Guitarists like Freddy Greene [Count Basie] have this folky sense of rhythm in their playing, and country singers like Patsy Cline have a jazz-like phrasing, so bringing those elements together seemed natural. I asked Scott Nygaard to play guitar because his style connects folk, jazz, and bluegrass in a way that compliments my thinking about the music. John R. Burr combines jazz piano technique with ragtime, Americana, and a genuine love for folk music, so he was the perfect pianist to work with. I chose songs by writers like Nick Drake, Ray Davies, and Randy Newman because they’re the songwriters I love, along with writers we readily associate with The Great American Songbook.”
Walker selected music that resonated with her, along with one, Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” that was a new revelation. “I found ‘Lovely Day’ in an Irving Berlin songbook,” she says. “I’d never heard it before, but as I played it out on the piano, I knew it would be a good fit. I tend toward happy melodies with sad lyrics or vice versa, tunes that look at both sides of the coin. Several songs deal with mortality, or the ache of a broken heart, but the underlying theme of the album is redemption. How love affects our ability to embrace life and acknowledge the limitations of existence, and that beauty can be found in melancholy. The idea that a broken heart is better than no heart at all.”
Walker produced Life Is Sweet with bassist Jon Evans (Tori Amos, Spencer Day). The arrangements are by Walker and pianist John R. Burr. Drummer Scott Amendola (Madeleine Peyroux) and Grammy nominated guitarist Scott Nygaard complete the basic quartet. Cellist Philip Worman, organ player Julie Wolf (Ani Di Franco), trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Rufus Wainwright), and Dave Ellis on sax added discreet overdubs. “We left room in the arrangements for improvisation,” Walker says. “We worked out the feel of the songs, coming up with specific interpretations, intros, and endings, then let the ideas flow.”
Walker’s burnished vocals have a hint of restrained passion that suggests country music, but her phrasing, which dances around before and after the beat, is pure jazz. Her low-key approach is folky at times, but raw emotion lurks just beneath the surface, adding an alluring tension to her performances.
The album opens with “I Remember You.” The band takes the tune at a sprightly tempo but Walker’s expressive, ethereal singing is slightly behind the beat creating the intense, heady energy of a new love affair. “When he wrote this song, Johnny Mercer had an intense crush on Judy Garland,” Walker says. “The lyric is in the present moment, sung as a flirtation, and then soars up into the heavens to give the song a giddy, breathless sense, like you've died and gone to heaven.”
Burr’s piano on Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean” lays down a laid-back, sultry, jazz groove, with just a hint of vintage 60’s country music. Walker’s smoky vocal implies the excitement and hesitance of an anxious lover. Burr’s piano and Worman’s cello bring some warmth to the almost fatalistic lyric. Walker’s playful vocal and swooning harmonies add an extra rhythmic element to Jobim’s “Water of March.” Evans plays subliminal lap steel to augment the track’s dreamy aura.
Walker first heard “What’ll I Do” on the soundtrack of Robert Redford’s film The Great Gatsby when she was quite young, and it stuck with her ever since. Audiences frequently are moved to tears when Walker sings it in clubs. It’s played here as a solemn country waltz, with Worman’s wistful cello complimenting Walker’s wrenching vocal. Randy Newman’s “Let Me Go” gets a sassy ragtime treatment, as does Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This A Lovely Day?”, another song with a skewed worldview. Burr’s honky-tonk piano and Bernstein’s muted trumpet suggest the allure of an after hours club in the 30s.
The Kinks “Celluloid Heroes” first appeared on the album Everybody’s in Show-Biz. Walker liked the song’s melancholy yet hopeful melody. “The song has a noirish humor that makes it work perfectly as a torch song,”
Walker says. “Its poignant melody and references to Monroe, Garbo, Valentino, and Bette Davis give it a timeless feel.” Few singers cover Nick Drake, a jazz/folk songwriter with a poet’s soul and a heart of darkness. Walker closes the album with Drake’s “Saturday Sun.” Her optimistic vocal, the soaring sax of Dave Ellis and Burr’s gospel-tinged piano bringing a hint of salvation to the haunting lyric.
The result is a quiet classic, with the musicians placing their restrained virtuosity in the service of Walker’s subtle vocals to deliver an album that keeps revealing its emotional and musical intensity with repeated listenings.