Lisa Mills,
I'm Changing
(independent, 2014)

As an author I have some experience of what goes into revising an existing book to prepare it for a second edition. That means that you preserve much of the original while adjusting, rewriting, updating, and contributing new text. I'm Changing is the recording equivalent. This disc, originally released in 2005, has been remastered by a new producer, Trina Shoemaker. Two cuts were fully re-recorded, with three new ones added. Since I haven't heard the first edition, I am in no position to survey the differences. I can tell you that the disc in its current iteration impresses and moves.

Born in Mississippi, now living in Alabama, Lisa Mills comes across as something like the early Bonnie Raitt, though without the commercial compromises Raitt was even then making (to me at least, the effect has been to render Raitt more appealing as a personality than as a musical figure). Mills, whose Tempered in Fire I reviewed in this space on 18 February 2012, certainly has the pipes to project the material, and even better, she employs them with sensitivity and restraint. Her strong guitar playing, acoustic and electric, is at the forefront of understated, uncluttered instrumental accompaniment, though sometimes not even that. The gospel "Tell Me" consists of her voice alone.

Most of the songs are of her own creation. Awash in bluesy atmospherics, with soul, jazz, gospel and classic-pop splashes, they tend to address relationship issues, albeit with an adult sensibility and, as much as possible, without resort to romantic cliche. The title song tackles a not-unfamiliar theme but diverts it in a surprising direction. "I Don't Want to be Happy" is original in more than one sense, an effort, and a successful one, to compress complex and conflicting emotions into a 4:09 song.

"I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down" attests to Mills's deepest roots. Here she backs her singing with acoustic slide guitar and haunting silences, affording this oldtime spiritual -- learned from Rev. Robert Wilkins' version, which incorporates floating verses from secular folk songs such as "I Ain't Gonna Be Treated This A-Way" -- a particularly evocative dark grace. Though I've not seen the point made elsewhere, it strikes me that this is as much a veiled protest against stoop labor -- exemplified in the grueling, physically demanding work African Americans historically experienced picking cotton -- as an affirmation of relief in Heaven.

I'm Changing is not just another album by another white woman influenced by black music, but something, while generally recognizable in style, also distinctive and uniquely worth hearing. Mills sings, plays and writes with rare authority.

music review by
Jerome Clark

27 December 2014

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