Lissie’s music is often categorised as “pop”. Variations thereof: indie pop, folk pop, etc. appear to lend nuance, but if so, it’s redundant. She doesn’t seem to mind – after all, she co-owns a popcorn brand called Otts’ Pops Indie Pop, which might as well be an edible eyeroll.
Such attempts at genre-defining are often pointless other than for marketing purposes, but in this case, the danger of such tropes is that they threaten to disguise that Lissie is, in fact, a bona fide telecaster-toting, tequila-swigging rockstar.
Sure, she might occasionally crack out an acoustic guitar, perform shows in bare feet, and sing about protecting the environment. But Lissie continues to prove she can tear it up with the best of them. She can’t escape being compared to Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks, but she can sure give them a run for their money.
Granted, her debut album Catching Tigers was eclectic, and certainly weaved influences of folk with country in an attempt to showcase her varied songwriting. It even contained a piano ballad (de rigueur in 2010). Then, having proven herself, her second album Back to Forever was heavier and Lissie, having always seemed to carry an innate and unbreakable confidence, appeared more comfortable and carefree than ever, singing “I don’t know what this game is / Cause I’m not even playing it / You don’t know what my name is / So what, so what?”
It’s been a while since we last heard from her in the form of an original full-length album. A selection of stripped back reworkings of old material was released in 2019 – The Piano Retrospective – but as her songwriting matures, her new album promises something more challenging.
Although all 12 new songs effortlessly rest on a familiar shelf of sunny California rock, this is a breakup album, and as such is admittedly more melancholic – indeed a little more indie – than we have come to expect from Lissie, who turns 40 later this year. Carving Canyons is deeply personal and has been described as “a sonic comfort as it simultaneously charts the ripples caused by heartbreak and loneliness as well as what happens when the soul perseveres amidst pain”.
Lissie says that the breakup, bookended by the pandemic, spurred on the creative outburst that led to this album. She runs a farm in Iowa and lead single ‘Flowers’ links the cyclical character of grief with the nature that surrounds her. Lissie said of the song, “I wanted to claim my right to feel my feelings. As I grieved – not only for a relationship, but for the world in the midst of a pandemic – I felt like my anger made people uncomfortable, but I came out the other side empowered and ready to step back into my light. I can grow my own flowers and make my own joy.”
Nashville-based songwriter and performer Bre Kennedy is one of several guest vocalists to appear on the album, contributing to its stirring harmonies which can be enjoyed on the gorgeously self-pitying ‘Lonesome Wine’, the catchy and empowering ‘Yellow Roses’, and the spitefully honest ‘Sad’. The title track is another celebration of nature’s ability to heal as well as an acceptance of the inevitability of heartbreak.
With further help on backing vocals from Sarah Buxton and Kate York, at times the album takes on an eerie, ethereal quality. All the songs on this album were written by Lissie, but it has been endowed with a strong collective co-writing effort which included Madi Diaz, Morgan Nagler, and Natalie Hemby.
Lissie has always written for the live stage, motivated by her desire for her touring band to do her albums justice without requiring access to digital or synthesised sounds. Having worked for many years with producer Curt Schneider – who also has credits with Patty Griffin, Jeff Beck, and Alanis Morissette among others – Lissie knew she could trust him to help her deliver this vision again.
It is an emotionally raw and open album which provides a glimpse into the psyche of someone who – along with most of the rest of the globe – was forced to visit a temporary world of isolation and desolation that many would now prefer to forget. For some, the experience was exacerbated by additional losses: those of homes, jobs, and people. The album’s sentiments are a reminder of the power of healthily embracing our most challenging emotions. As Lissie says, “I’m allowed to hurt – because you can’t go around it, you can’t skip it, you’ve gotta feel the feelings.”
Carving Canyons is out now, and you can stream it below: