Lisa Mills – The Triangle | Album Review

Lisa Mills – The Triangle

Melody Place/BMG

CD: 14 Songs, 50 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Torch Singer Blues

Across the globe, many people believe in reincarnation. My question is: Can a soul reincarnate in more than one body at the same time? Witness Mississippi native Lisa Mills, a dead ringer for Etta James if there ever was one. Her fourth album, The Triangle, is a thrill-inducing tribute to the collective triangle of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Jackson, MS. Indeed, she and her backing band recorded all fourteen tracks in these three cities: six in Memphis, four in Muscle Shoals, and four in Jackson. All of them add up to one heck of an album, both on instrumentation and on vocals. Even though there are several iconic covers present, such as “Tell Mama,” “Slip Away,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” Lisa sings with such passion, such all-encompassing vigor, that no one will mind a bit. Her voice is a maven’s voice, a sit-up-and-pay-attention-right-NOW voice. As for the instrumentation, its clarity, timbre and pitch are worthy of Madison Square Garden. This is an unmissable CD even if you’ve collected every album Etta ever did.

Mills, a current Alabama resident, could be called a blues, gospel, torch or R&B singer, and each label would be accurate. In fact, as reviews of her 2014 album I’m Changing (a remastered and enhanced version of her 2005 debut) poured in, she was described in all of these terms. Some critics suggested they even heard the nascent stirrings of a jazz stylist in some of her more nuanced recordings.

Listeners responded to Lisa’s sophisticated, emotional performances by making her 2015 U.K. tour a rousing success, marked by sellout or near-packed venues and brisk post-concert CD sales. Along with this CD, she has released Mama’s Juke Book, a collection of songs that her mother, the late Juanita Powell, had painstakingly written down in a Dollar General Store notebook for posterity’s. Lisa discovered the notebook, along with an original composition called “A Song of Love,” and decided to record her findings. Rarely has a tribute album been more poignant.

Performing alongside Lisa on the Muscle Shoals tracks are keyboardist Clayton Ivey, bassist Bob Wray, lead electric guitarist John Willis, Fred Mollin on rhythm and acoustic guitars, and Justin Holder on drums and percussion. In Memphis, there are Lester Snell on keyboards, Leroy Hodges on bass, Michael Toles on lead electric guitar, Fred Mollin on rhythm electric guitar, Steve Potts on drums and percussion, and Reverend Charles Hodges on Hammond B3 organ. Featured musicians for the tracks recorded in Jackson are Sam Brady on keyboards, Mike Thorn on bass, Brennan White on lead electric guitar, Fred Mollin on rhythm electric guitar, and George Lawrence on drums and percussion. Mills herself plays guitar on the fourteenth song. Horns are arranged by saxophonist Jim Hoke. Steve Herman plays trumpet. Maureen Murphy and Kendra Chantelle provide background vocals.

Speaking of love, most of the songs on The Triangle concern it: “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” “I’m In Love,” “I’ll Always Love You” and the gut-wrenching “Members Only.” How good is that lucky thirteenth offering? It’ll give you goosebumps inside a warm house.

Several blues women take a page (or more than a page) out of Etta James’ playbook, but Lisa is the only one that Ms. Wetnight highly praised when the CD was over. Reincarnation or pure inspiration? You decide. The Triangle will send tingles up and down your spine, guaranteed.

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