The story of Lissie – the Rock Island native who went to California with dreams of stardom that you could hear on two albums, and who then returned to the Midwest and bought an Iowa farm – is captured in the second track on her new album My Wild West, and it’s the emotional and musical retreat you’d expect.
Following an instrumental overture, the largely piano-and-voice “Hollywood” hits obvious notes of regret and pain: “Oh, Hollywood / You broke my heart just because you could.”
The nuances here – the shoulda-known-better admission – do little to justify the song or its foregrounding on the album. Its prominence only begins to make sense when you take the long view of My Wild West.
Like “Hollywood,” the front half of the album feels oddly self-conscious – with over-thought stylistic shifts. But the back end goes a long way toward correcting that, as My Wild West reveals itself to be a lot like most Lissie songs: a patient lull before she unleashes that monster of a voice.
And in that context, the whole begins to make sense as a story with its tentative beginning in Hollywood disappointment. Slowly but surely, Lissie sheds shackles over the course of the album, growing more confident and less burdened. Precise articulations of muted moods give way to anticipated but unpredictable detonations. The record, ultimately, becomes the best and freest long-form expression of Elisabeth Maurus’ forceful performance talent and casual authenticity.