“These songs are dark,” says Liz Brasher of the material on her debut. “But they’re about having strength through the darkness.” The 27 year-old Memphis-based chanteuse’s debut, “Cold Baby” b/w “Painted Image” (out via Fat Possum) is a stunning, smoldering slab of wax – a document of love and disillusion, faith and redemption – that instantly heralds Brasher as a thrilling new voice in American roots music. Her material is imbued with the elemental beauty of the Staple Singers’ earliest work. “Pops Staples played these really singular guitar riffs and wrote songs based on that,” she says. “I wasn’t the best guitar player but I knew what he was doing was simple enough to sing and write around. So I started to imitate that.” Evolving her brand of spiritual soul, she found sustenance and further direction in the discographies of great Southern labels like Stax, Fame and Goldwax.
In addition to Brasher and her rhythm section, the sessions featured guest appearances by St. Paul and the Broken Bones organist Al Gamble and Bo-Keys horn men Kirk Smothers and Marc Franklin. While the bulk of the recording was tracked at Bomar’s Electrophonic Studio, he and Brasher ventured to other historic Memphis studios, including Ardent to add strings, and Royal, the home of Hi Records, to cut horns.
First single “Cold Baby” plays like a lost Etta James Chess classic. “It’s the same story that probably every human has dealt with in a relationship: not feeling appreciated,” she says. “It’s actually one of the first songs I ever wrote — to hear it fully realized with the beautiful string arrangement is really amazing.”
The b-side is “Painted Image,” a haunting rumination colored by Brasher and Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist Jonathan Kirkscey. Peering into the embers of a dying romance, she refuses to surrender herself. “It’s about not giving up, not giving into the darkness,” says Brasher, offering a neat summary of her work.
“The music I’ve always loved most has always been about that – defiance in the face of despair. If I’ve managed to capture some of that feeling with these songs, then I feel like I’ve succeeded.”