Lizzie West and her songs are going places, have been places, and are here right now. "I Pledge Allegiance to Myself," the Brooklyn-based cross-country gypsy’s first CD for Appleseed, recounts her latest adventures on what she calls “the holy road” – the open-minded path to experience, ideas, honesty, and living life in the moment.
Lizzie’s debut CD, “Holy Road,” originally self-released and then reissued in slicked-up form by Warner Bros. as “Holy Road: Freedom Songs’ three years ago, won her acclaim as “Breakout Artist of 2003” from AOL and Entertainment Weekly. Her songs were featured in the soundtracks of TV shows (“Everwood,” “Dawson’s Creek,” Third Watch,” among others) and movies (“Secretary,” HBO’s “Rock the Boat”). Radio airplay was strong, print reviews were positive, she was touring with artists like Chris Isaak. She was on the fast track to mass appeal. Though she was thankful for the opportunities, ongoing disagreements with her label over controversial song content and a growing disdain for the corporate machine, compounded by the sudden loss of both of her parents to cancer, made Lizzie realize it was time for a change, a course correction on her holy road.
As fans of Appleseed Recordings’ 2004 “Beat Café” release by ’60s folk-rock icon Donovan, Lizzie and her “musical collaborator, co-producer, boyfriend and blessing,” Anthony Kieraldo (a.k.a. The White Buffalo), brought Lizzie’s new collection of twelve original songs and two cover versions to the independent label, which is dedicated to artistic freedom and social justice through music.
Recorded in New York, Nashville and Jamaica, “I Pledge Allegiance to Myself” is an intoxicating array of personal and philosophical experiences set to arrangements informed by folk, roots, hip-hop, reggae, gospel and contemporary Americana. One moment Lizzie is the playful, sexy seductress in the delightfully sunny reggae of “Rope Me In and Smoke Me,” the next she’s the jealousy-wracked accuser in “God Damn That Man.” She prays for a cleansing exorcism in “Take These Demons,” then defiantly issues her personal declaration of spiritual independence in the title track, incorporating “America the Beautiful.” In “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman (Thank You),” she gratefully thanks the life force within us all, then digs for hope beneath the pained life-during-wartime vignettes of “19 Miles to Baghdad.” Although troubled love is a recurring theme (“Brooklyn Bound,” “Of Course, My Love,” “God Damn That Man,” “Looking for Leonard Cohen, part 1”), her unquenchable belief in self-determination resurfaces on “I Can See the Mountains from Here,” “Reaching for Light,” “They Won’t Bury Us Till We Die,” and a haunted version of Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Get Up, Stand Up” that incorporates a Lizzie-written poem metaphorically urging us to “let your string roll and your kite fly.” The CD’s other cover song is a bittersweet ride on Steve Goodman’s classic “City of New Orleans,” which becomes a bruised plea for unity in our fractured country.
To coincide with the release of “I Pledge Allegiance,” Lizzie, the White Buffalo, and their dharma dog (Lizzie’s canine traveling companion since 1998) will let their musical kite fly on their “I Pledge Allegiance to Myself Tour.” As artists in residence, they will travel across America and overseas, with performances starting in April. The duo will further involve us in their adventures through their weekly Holy Road Medicine Show podcast “gathering universal perspectives on god, love and war” via www.lizziewestlife.com and all podcast channels.
ABOUT LIZZIE WEST:
In her own words: “I was born in 1973, only to feel the lights of New York burning my brain like memories of lives I had lived before. I’ve driven across the country nine times, kept 38 books of research, and traveled through the machine of the music industry, just once.”
Lizzie grew up to the soundtrack of her mother’s classical piano playing, theater music, and her two brothers’ collection of ’60s and ’70s albums. Her own tastes correspondingly changed from the “Annie” original cast recording to Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman, Bob Dylan, “and everything in between.” She sang around the house to an audience that included her mother’s friends from the theatrical world, including “Annie” composer Charles Strauss and James Earl Jones.
At 18, Lizzie moved to London to write poetry and study playwriting, which led to her writing a children’s musical that was produced off Broadway in 1993. After returning to the US, she studied acting in New York and won the lead in an “off off Broadway” play. She traveled to Nashville in 1996 to work backstage at one of her mother’s theatrical productions, and it was in Music City that she bought her first guitar and taught herself to play. Heading back to Manhattan, Lizzie “really started on the holy road in ’97, when I performed my music publicly for the first time on the Bedford Avenue subway stop. That morning, someone put $10 in my guitar case after hearing one song – I think it was ‘Rope Me In and Smoke Me.’ I took that as a sign that I should keep going in this direction and live to follow my bliss.”
Guided by the writings of poets Walt Whitman and William Blake, Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beats, mythologist Joseph Campbell, and the humanistic teachings of Martin Luther King, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and other spiritual figures, Lizzie’s concept of “the holy road” as a state of free thought and personal determination became her central artistic principle. After two years of subway station and street performances, she recorded and released the original version of her “Holy Road” CD. While performing at her sister’s Brooklyn nightclub, The Stinger, in the spring of 2001, Lizzie was spotted and signed to a recording contract by a Warner Bros. representative.
Even before her Warners signing, director Spike Lee had chosen Lizzie to appear in an IAM.com commercial singing “Holy Road”; the spot was aired nationally, including during the Oscar Awards and Super Bowl telecasts. Lizzie was in demand, her songs featured in films and TV shows, and she even sang the National Anthem at a WNBA game in Madison Square Garden. Her first performance tour of the US was in the summer of 2000. Accompanied by Figaro, her “dharma dog,” and filmmaking friend Atar Schimmel, who documented the journey, she went looking, literally and metaphorically, for one of her songwriting heroes, Leonard Cohen, who had spent the previous five years at a Zen retreat in California. “He was the kindest man I’d ever met,” remembers Lizzie. “He took me to visit the monastery and then sent me on my holy road. He and the dharma dog spoke at much greater length than we did.”
In 2002, the reenergized Lizzie continued to tour, write and perform while working with Warners on an updated version of “Holy Road,” including a few different songs and smoother production, which was released in 2003 as “Holy Road: Freedom Songs.”
The new version of “Holy Road” opened the doors of opportunity still wider for Lizzie – Entertainment Weekly and AOL named her “Breakout Artist of 2003,” The New York Times and Los Angeles Times were singing her praises, and prestigious radio shows such as KCRW’s syndicated “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” WXPN’s syndicated “World Café,” and the XM Satellite network were airing the CD. But. . .Warners wasn’t too receptive to some of the new songs Lizzie was writing (such as “19 Miles to Baghdad”), and Lizzie wasn’t too happy to be part of what Joni Mitchell once called “the star-making machinery behind the popular song.” So she and the label parted company in 2004, she released “19 Miles to Baghdad” as a free Internet download, soon met Anthony Kieraldo (“The White Buffalo”) and followed the holy road to her new label, Appleseed Recordings, her new CD, “I Pledge Allegiance to Myself,” and her limitless future.
ABOUT THE WHITE BUFFALO:
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Anthony Kieraldo’s earliest musical influences were Mozart, Ray Charles, Jim Henson and Peter, Paul & Mary. Studying jazz and classical piano playing and composition at Interlochen Arts Academy, his talents were recognized in Down Beat magazine. He subsequently toured Peru in 2000 and 2001 with his Treeonik trio, playing original compositions, and they released an album on an independent label. Further jazz piano studies at Boston’s New England Conservatory led to Tony’s enlistment in Booty Juice, a fusion group that recorded two albums and toured the US and Canada several times. Relocating to New York in 2003, Tony played, recorded and toured in a variety of musical settings, including dance classes for Alvin Ailey and the National Dance Institute. By the summer of 2004, Tony was teaching himself to sing and to play and compose on guitar. A fateful 7 a.m. encounter with Lizzie West outside a Manhattan café on June 2nd, 2005, as she was strumming her ukulele and singing with the morning birds, led to a romantic and musical relationship that can be heard blossoming on "I Pledge Allegiance to Myself."