Bird On A Wing, Liza’s first solo release, marks a new beginning for one of Boulder, Colorado’s most admired talents. “This is the first time in my fifteen year career as a singer/songwriter,” says Liza, “where I made every choice for the production from start to finish. This album is as pure an expression of what I want to say as an artist as I know how to achieve.”
Liza first gained national attention in 1991 as the singer, lead guitarist and songwriter for the band Zuba. Liza’s fierce lead guitar work, seductive vocals, and passionate songwriting helped Zuba sell more than 30,000 units of their four self-produced albums and land singles on the soundtracks of several motion pictures, most notably Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary.
But the Zuba years came to an end in 1999, when Liza and the other members of the band began to desire different musical directions. “I was ready to make an album that was less about getting a crowd to dance, and more about speaking, in an intimate way, to the human heart.”
Bird On A Wing is that album. Filled with the same compelling intensity that led Zuba to have a cult fan base all over the US, Liza’s songs now have an artistic maturity and a deep emotional resonance. The songs speak about love, loss and what composes a rewarding existence. “I went through many changes all at once, from losing my home, friendships I had spent many years building, and ending the band, which was my identity for so long. That is when I began to write more about self reflection, family connections, and the wide range of relationships that enrich and sustain our lives.”
As she wrote the songs, Liza began to search for the musicians who could help her realize her new sound. She interviewed and auditioned some of Colorado’s finest, then put together a team that includes keyboard player and co-producer Erik Deutsch from the Charlie Hunter Trio, drummer/percussionist Brian McRae from the Freddy Jones Band, bass player Aaron Snyder, Glenn Taylor on pedal steel and backing vocalist Ryan Tracy. “It was amazing to hear the evolution of the songs when I put all these accomplished musicians together. This is by far my most rewarding experience as a songwriter.”
The album is a stylistically and emotionally diverse collection of songs that demonstrate Liza’s ability to capture life in all its complicated and contradictory guises. “I Gave It Away” is a bluesy country song accented by Deutsch’s dramatic Gospel-influenced Grand Piano and the inventive pedal steel work of Taylor. Liza’s vocals here are achingly vulnerable. “The song is about having to let go of love before you’re ready.” “Gone Tomorrow” is a swinging, cool jazz number, with a relaxed groove, and Liza’s smooth vocals. While the song examines mortality, the music gives the tune a bright, breezy feeling. “My grandfather on my mom’s side loved jazz. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I started thinking about impermanence. I wanted to write about loss, but I wanted to honor his playful spirit, too, so the song balances these light and dark feelings.” The title track, “Bird On A Wing,” is a striking pop melody that deals with rebirth and renewal. It offers some of the album’s most vivid images, and highlights dramatic ensemble work from the band that builds to a bright, hopeful conclusion. “Boys On Parade,” another standout, has a complex, meandering folk rock arrangement, with Liza’s strong acoustic guitar work. Liza’s vocals are graceful, but there’s an implied cynicism in her delivery. “It is a metaphorical look at men who go out to strip clubs or possibly more before they get married. I don’t judge it, but I want to understand what’s behind it. Guys say: ‘I can go do this, but I still love you too’. I just wonder if they think about how this affects their much more meaningful bond.”
Other unforgettable tracks include: “So Easy,” a soothing torch song with a modified hip hop beat, “Home For My Heart” a ballad with bright piano work and cascading backing vocals, and “This Time” a rock song with dazzling guitar work from Liza and Deutsch.
Listening to Bird on a Wing, one can hear the years of craft and dedication that Liza has put into her music. She began singing and playing as a child in Savannah, Georgia. “When I was a girl I put on musicals with my sisters,” she recalls. “I sang in the school choir and took piano lessons.” In high school, Liza joined a band that already had a piano player, so she learned to play guitar and started writing songs. She says she dreaded the academic environment until she transferred to an arts-focused school. Her accomplishments there inspired her to continue her musical education at Rollins College in Florida. After graduation, Liza headed out to Colorado, a place she had visited often as a child, where the landscape and lifestyle provided her with inspiration for her music.
“I’d been in bands before I moved to Colorado,” Liza says, “But Zuba required far more dedication. It was an 18 hour a day job, and we really cared about our audience. We wanted to lift their spirits. We sent a lot of people off into the night sweaty and dazed and happy. People came to see our shows because they wanted to release something within themselves. One minute they’d be having a hard day, the next minute, dancing their asses off. I really saw in a dramatic way how music could change people.”
After the break up of Zuba, Liza’s next musical effort was with longtime friend Billy Nershi of The String Cheese Incident. Liza met Nershi when they briefly played as a duo in the early ‘90s and over the years they stayed in touch. When Zuba broke up in 1999, Liza began opening shows for String Cheese. Eventually the reunion led Liza and Nershi to cut an album, It’s About Time, in 2001.
With the release of Bird On A Wing, Liza shows that, on her own, she is a skillful and tempered songwriter, with a commanding presence, yet a tender voice. Her powerful vignettes of love, loss and joy come to sparkling life. “So many artists spend their lives evading the one project that really matters to them,” she says, “I feel fortunate to have figured out that for me it was this album, that I have had the amazing chance to make it, and that most importantly, I believe I have achieved my finest work.”