Music News & Reviews

From family bands to Jack White music, Lillie Mae serves country cocktails

Lillie Mae performs Sunday at The Burl.
Lillie Mae performs Sunday at The Burl. Laura Partain

Lillie Mae

8 p.m. Jan. 7 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. $12. 859-447-8166. Theburlky.com, Lilliemaemusic.com.

“If leavin’ was meant to belong,” Lillie Mae Rische sings during the home stretch of her newest album, “then good things were meant to go wrong.”

The sentiment is pure country, an engaging cocktail of wistfulness and melancholy served with strains of fiddle and mandolin, a briskly paced sweep of a melody and the kind of unspoiled emotive clarity that corporate Nashville has sanitized into oblivion over the years in favor of radio airplay.

But throughout the splendid 2017 album “Forever and Then Some,” Rische — who goes professionally by the name Lillie Mae — doesn’t seem to show overwhelming interest in commercial fortune. Possessed with a voice that embraces cheery, Tennessee hills country inspiration, “Forever and Then Some” regularly echoes tradition.

Sometimes it’s obvious, as in the jangly shuffle “Honky Tonks and Taverns,” in which the very title underscores country sensibility. Still, it’s the one-two punch of Rische’s high, boundlessly sunny singing and her rustic and immediately commanding fiddle leads that triggers a rootsy charge during the song’s ultra-efficient, two minute-and-pocket change running length.

But tune into the album-opening electric ramble “Over the Hills and Through the Woods” and what you hear sounds like upstart honky tonk laced with a trace of psychedelia — the kind that found itself on FM radio at the dawn of the 1970s. At the other end of the record, the finale tune “Dance to the Beat of My Own Drum,” Rische departs country altogether for a rockish fiddle meditation with an almost Eastern feel and a narrative that defines and affirms her stance as an independent artist.

To better understand the blend of the traditional and the progressive in the music of Lillie Mae, examine the two musical camps that have served as her most lasting influences.

The first belongs to her family. She began singing at age 3 and took to the fiddle at 7. That combination placed her onstage and on the road full time with her four siblings and father Forrest Carter in the Forrest Carter Rische Family Band. By the time she turned 9, Lillie Mae Rische was taken under the wing of veteran country songwriter, producer and engineer Cowboy Jack Clement. Work then began with a second family band — initially called The Risches but soon renamed Jypsi — where the now-grown Rische children began meshing elements of bluegrass, pop and country.

But it was Jack White who proved most instrumental in introducing today’s rock and country audiences to Lillie Mae. She joined White’s touring band, The Peacocks, in 2012, played on his 2014 solo album “Lazaretto,” and soon enlisted the onetime White Stripe chieftain as her producer.

That led to “Forever and Then Some,” which was released last spring on White’s Third Man Records. The label was already responsible for establishing the career of another indie country great, Margo Price.

After television appearances in the wake of the album’s release on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Conan,” Lillie Mae finally makes her way to Lexington this weekend. She performs Sunday at The Burl.

Need additional enticement to take in the show? Then get a load of the one-line description Rolling Stone came up with after tagging Lillie Mae as a “New Country Artist You Need to Know” last March. Under the category of “Sounds like…,” the magazine said, “Alison Krauss recording B-sides for ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’”

John Moreland

9 p.m. Jan. 11 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. $15-$18. 859-447-8166. Theburlky.com, Johnmoreland.net.

A busy week at The Burl will run through Jan. 11 with a headlining performance by John Moreland, the Texas born, Tulsa bred song stylist with a seemingly improbable stylistic heritage.

With a critical reputation cemented by his fine 2017 album “Big Bad Luv,” Moreland’s music is like a glossary of roots-driven Americana inspirations. You hear vocal nods to vintage Steve Earle and ZZ Top mingling with instrumental accents from the Rev. Gary Davis and newer blues descendents like the North Mississippi All Stars. But Moreland’s upbringing wasn’t so much dictated by roots music as it was punk, an inspiration that continues to inform the immediacy of his songs and performances.

Moreland’s punk rock teendom followed a childhood (from ages 1 to 10) spent in Northern Kentucky, specifically, Boone County.

“One of my first musical memories was from when we lived really close to the Cincinnati airport,” Moreland said before his set last summer at Forecastle in Louisville. “My dad was kind of obsessed with airplanes, so we would sit there at the airport and watch the airplanes come down over our heads and land. We would listen to WEBN, which was classic rock back then — Tom Petty and stuff like that. We would sit there, listen to Tom Petty and just watch the planes land.”

Ian Noe will open Moreland’s Thursday performance.

Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com

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