On Stage: Lissie comfortable with her midwest roots

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Rock musicians from all over the country migrate to California on a regular basis. There is a natural attraction there that can’t be denied.

If the young artists can afford it, they’ll stay there on the West Coast. Or, they might venture off to one of the country’s other hot spots for musicians such as Austin, Brooklyn or Nashville.

If you’re a musician from the Midwest and have been able to break free from the gravitational pull of the nation’s heartland, chances are you’re not heading back anytime soon to the “I” states – Illinois, Iowa or Indiana.

Lissie, who will be headlining a show on May 25 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com), is the exception to the rule.

A while back, Lissie left her home in Rock Island, Illinois and moved to Colorado to attend Colorado State University. Then, the talented singer/songwriter/guitarist headed to Southern California to pursue a music career there. But, she never abandoned her down-home roots.

Now, Lissie, whose full name is Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, is back in the Midwest — living on her own farm in northeastern Iowa.

“I was in Ojai (California) for seven years,” said Lissie, during a phone interview Wednesday from a tour stop in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Prior to that, I was in Hollywood for five years. I moved to Ojai because it’s in the country – away from the Hollywood/L.A. scene. Before I lived in Hollywood, I was in Colorado for a few years. Ojai was nice, but I missed the Midwest – so I went back.”

Lissie’s latest project is “Castles,” her fourth full-length album. It was released in March on Lionboy/Thirty Tigers. Additionally, the album’s hit single “Best Days” is currently #13 on Triple A Radio and climbing.

Lissie’s relocation to the Hawkeye State informed her new album.

Written predominantly from Lissie’s farm in northeast Iowa, “Castles” represents a new openness in her approach to songwriting and recording. Having moved out of the music industry machine and back to her native Midwest, the grounding she found living and working on a farm ushered in a period of exploration. “Castles” is a portrait of an artist who has always been on the move and is finally creating a sense of permanency.

“I started writing songs for ‘Castles’ in 2016 and spent a year working on the album,” said Lissie. “The song ‘My Wild West’ was about leaving California, going back to the Midwest and buying a farm.”

The album was also informed by some painful, personal problems Lissie had experienced in recent years.

“Going into the writing of ‘Castles,’ I had been in this confusing and painful relationship,” said Lissie. “I knew that it wasn’t going to work out – that it was unhealthy. Emotions and words were coming in real time as I dealt with that relationship.

“I sang my feelings around the house. It allowed me to create in a natural way – out in nature planting trees and gardening. Music was a byproduct of the environment. Other creative activities informed my ability to write from a stream of consciousness.

“It was very much a cathartic experience. I re-evaluated what I want – to use my music to chronicle my experiences…which are also universal experiences. I’ve found that audiences can relate to the songs.”

Fans from around the country consistently tell Lissie how relevant the songs are to their lives.

According to Lissie, “It’s the record people always wanted me to make but I couldn’t really make it until I got to be in charge. Before I was trying to please too many people. It stopped being fun. But eventually you get to the stage where you accept yourself for who you are. I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else. If I can make a living doing something I’m passionate about, that’s a good life.”

Lissie received help on “Castles” from old friends like Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and Martin Craft, Jim Irvin, Julian Emery and Curt Schenider (who worked in a large capacity on her previous album “My Wild West”), as well as new collaborators like producers AG and Liam Howe.

“When I moved back to Iowa, people expected an acoustic album,” said Lissie, who also appeared in the most recent season of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” television show.

“It was the opposite. I used more technology than ever. I emailed tracks to my producer in London. Later, I went to London to add to the tracks. I also recorded some tracks in L.A. It was piecemeal – but, it gave me a lot more freedom.

“On this tour I have four other musicians – bass, guitar, drums and keyboard. I play guitar and sing. My live show is about 90 minutes. I do six songs from ‘Castles’ along with a lot of older favorites. I also do a lot of solo touring.”

A lot of musicians when out on tour worry about their family or their pets – not Lissie.

“When I’m out on the road, I worry about how my garden back home is doing,” said Lissie, speaking like a true Midwest farm girl.

Video link for Lissie – https://youtu.be/YgyuYgoamfo.

The show at the World Café Live, which has van William as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Other upcoming shows at World Café Live are Ellen Siberian Tiger, Joy Postell, Queue, & Grace London on May 26, Rising Appalachia on May 27, Joshua Park on May 27, and “Satellites Are Spinning: A Sizzling, Sonic Celebration of Sun Ra” on May 30.

Russell Thompkins Jr & The New Stylistics

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” is a 1974 hit recording by MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) featuring vocals by The Three Degrees. A classic example of the Philadelphia soul genre, it was written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff as the theme for the American musical television program “Soul Train,” which specialized in African American musical performers. The single was released on the Philadelphia International label.

After a while, TSOP became a phrase used to describe the music made by the Philly acts that released records on the Philadelphia International label. Some of the label’s most popular and best-selling acts were Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, MFSB, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls and The Stylistics.

On May 26, the Xcite Center at Parx Casino (2999 Street Road, Bensalem, 888-588-7279, https://parxcasino.com) will present a show called “The Sounds of Philadelphia.” The star-studded line-up features Russell Thompkins Jr & The New Stylistics, The Delfonics and Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes.

For more than 30 years, Russell Thompkins, Jr.’s impeccable falsetto voice led The Stylistics to international fame and recognition, recording such hits as “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “You’re A Big Girl Now,” “Stop, Look, Listen,” “You Are Everything” and “Rockin’ Roll Baby.” The Stylistics earned various awards, including a Grammy nomination for “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and a plaque on the Philadelphia Walk of Fame in 1994.

In May 2004, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. The Stylistics hit the Top Ten at the top of the 70s. Shortly after their initial chart success, they were put together with the songwriting and production team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed. That pairing led to a string of major hits over the next few years that would put The Stylistics indelibly on the R&B map.

In 2000, Thompkins left the group. After his split from the group, Thompkins studied music formally and learned to play the piano. In 2002, he released a solo album, “A Matter of Style,” which included cover versions of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” and the Thom Bell and Linda Creed song “Jealousy” originally recorded by Dionne Warwick.

In 2004, Thompkins Jr. started a new group, “Russell Thompkins Jr. and the New Stylistics,” with Raymond Johnson, James Ranton, and Jonathan Buckson. They continue to tour and are featured on the DVD “Old School Soul Party Live!,” which was part of the PBS My Music series.

“We’re the New Stylistics and we do the full Stylistics catalog,” said Thompkins, Jr., during a phone interview last week from his home in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.

“We are traveling and working consistently – two or three gigs a month. Recently, we did shows in the Philippines, Singapore and Japan.

“I have an eight-piece band with a full rhythm section – and two singers. I sing all my hits from the Stylistics catalog.

“I left the original band in 1999 after years and years of dissent in the band. I stopped singing for a few years and went back to school. That left only two original members in the Stylistics – Airrion Love and Herbie Murrell.

“The Stylistics – the original group – we grew up together. I went to Saul High School and the other guys went to Ben Franklin High. The Stylistics came out of a band that was called the Monarchs.”

Inner turmoil eventually took its toll on the original Stylistics line-up.

“I put out a solo CD in 2003 called ‘A Matter of Style’ with a studio band,” said Thompkins Jr. “People had been asking me to put a band back together. But, I had been out on the road for 35 years and I was burnt out.

“After a while, I was missing it, so I decided to put this group together. We stay very true to the original music. And, I still do work on my own. I have a new solo album that is coming out very soon – within a month.”

“The Sounds of Philadelphia” concert will pay tribute to late WDAS FM radio legend Joe “Butterball” Tamburro, who died in July 2012.

Although the cause of death was not released, he suffered from heart disease and diabetes. Five dollars from every ticket for “The Sounds of Philadelphia” show will be donated to the American Diabetes Association in Tamburro’s memory.

Video link for Russell Thompkins, Jr. & The New Stylistics — https://youtu.be/sMD_Hpgj3MQ

The show at the Parx Casino will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets prices range from $35-$75.

The Security Project

Fans of Peter Gabriel’s music – especially his early solo albums after he departed Genesis – will surely like The Security Project.
The Security Project is a band that started performing in 2012 in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the release Gabriel’s “Security” album.

On May 26, The Security Project will perform at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

The Security Project — drummer Jerry Marotta (who played on those first four albums and toured with Gabriel for 10 years), Warr guitarist Trey Gunn (former member of King Crimson), guitarist Michael Cozzi (former member of Shriekback), keyboardist/eigenharpist David Jameson and vocalist Happy Rhodes — perform Gabriel’s early progressive repertoire, generally taking material from his first four albums.

“We’ve been together almost five years now,” said Gunn, during a phone interview Thursday from a stop in Woodstock, New York.

“Jerry and I were approached to see if we would get together for an anniversary of ‘Security,’ which was 30 years old at the time – to see if it would work because the music was so universal.

“We got together and played – and were shocked at how well it worked.”

It worked and the project continued on. The band released four very well-received CDs over the last few years – “Live 1,” “Live 2,” “FIVE” and the recently-released “Contact.”

“At first, there was no intention of doing an album at all – why do something when you can listen to the original record?,” said Gunn. “But, our band had an amazing sound live. It sounded close enough to the original yet very different. We’re able to do stuff that Peter Gabriel couldn’t do at the time because of the technology back then.”

Now, The Security Project is touring in support of “Contact,” which was released in November.

“It was done with Happy Rhodes and everything is live,” said Gunn. “It’s actually quite shocking how good it sounds. We used a special recording system that can record 32 tracks live. A lot of it was record at our East Coast shows last year and on then tour of Japan that followed.

“Jerry and I have worked with Happy for a long time. Happy has sung Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush songs for years. Now, we even do a Kate Bush tune in our show. We play stuff from our first four records – maybe everything from ‘Security.’ We recently released a live single of ‘Here Comes the Flood.’

“All four of our albums are from live shows. We’ve never done any studio recording. It’s just that the band sounded so mazing live. We wanted to document how great the band sounds live. Plus, we have the vibe of the audience – and we can pick the best tracks.”

Video link for The Security Project – https://youtu.be/XSuAC8xq6Zg.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $29.50 and $45.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Johnny A. on May 25, and The Trashcan Sinatras on May 27.

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