Lisa Biales,
Just Like Honey
(Big Song, 2012)

It's hard to listen to Lisa Biales (pronounced be-Alice) without thinking of Maria Muldaur, at least in her acoustic moments. Like Muldaur's vintage-leaning recordings, the focus is in good part on old-school blues, much of it vaudeville-flavored, with occasional excursions into Memphis Minnie-style rural sounds as well as bluesy contemporary pop.

In Just Like Honey the Ohio-based Biales performs in front of a superb, mostly unamplified band, beautifully produced by E.G. Kight and Paul Hornsby, and sings her way through 14 songs that range through the decades. The most antique is the folk-blues "Peaches," out of the admonition school that warns if you don't like peaches, then don't shake trees. Always good advice. Biales's brings an irresistably matter-of-fact, take-it-or-leave-it-though-I'd prefer-you-take-it erotic quality to this amiably sly-natured song.

One definition of a good singer is one who, though possessed of a powerful voice and deep lungs, doesn't feel the need to let you know it. Biales is a good singer because, though she could, she refuses to be an oversinging show-off. On occasion she exhales the lyrics but stops well short of the bombast that afflicts much cliched blues-mama delivery. That renders Candye Kane's hard R-rated "Gifted in the Ways of Love" genuinely fun as opposed to, say, painful (in the basic physiological sense) to listen to. Biales's vocals are intimately conversational, thus persuasive. She knows a lyric tells a story, and the songs of love, sex, loss and betrayal that she's chosen are of lives lived by fully grown adults. In both the writing and the singing there is no artifice. This enables her (in a duet with Kight) to make something even of the Delmore Brothers' tired and over-covered "Blues, Stay Away from Me."

Though most of Just Like Honey is rooted in popular styles of the 1920s and '30s, the production is more guitar- than piano-based, indicating that an updated country-blues sound is what Biales and band are striving for. Biales's voice certainly pleases the ear, but so does that wonderful band. Tommy Talton's acoustic and acoustic-slide guitars feel something like a natural wonder.

music review by
Jerome Clark

11 August 2012

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