It’s a long way from south Mississippi, where she was born, to Glastonbury, in southwestern England. But Lisa Mills has played Glastonbury and many more European festivals enough to feel comfortable on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, the artistic connections she formed as she gained international fans are counted as her musical next-of-kin; they just happen to be in the UK, while she now makes her home on Mobile Bay.
Recording her latest album, Tempered in Fire, at Rimshot Studios in Kent was a celebration of creative connections reaching near and afar. She chose songs by writers from her native South as well as Britain to complement her own songs and teamed with old and new musician friends from England and the U.S. Joining her in the vintage analogue studio—and laying down several of the songs as a live band—were her long-time performing partner, Ian Jennings, co-producer and double bass; Andy Fairweather Low on guitar, and Eric Heigle of New Orleans on drums. She and Jennings (Big Town Playboys, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison) have toured the UK for almost a decade, and she sings three tracks on his current studio album, Roll the Dice. It was through Jennings that she met Low (Amen Corner, Eric Clapton, George Harrison) and many others with whom she’s shared stage or studio, including Robert Plant, Jools Holland, and Jeff Beck, who also are guests on Jennings’ album.
Lisa grew up on gospel and soul and began composing songs before she was old enough to start school. Her daddy was dialed in to Hank Williams and her mother loved Elvis (and still does: she keeps The King’s CDs along with her daughter’s on her car’s sun visor). Destined to perform, Lisa poured her heart into writing, singing and playing guitar, gathering strength like the hurricanes that brew in the Gulf of Mexico. Her vocal influences ranged from Etta James to Brenda Lee. A friend who recognized Lisa’s potential sent Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company a copy of Blues and Ballads, her first CD, recorded live in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was the connection that landed Lisa her first international gig, in Germany, and a three-year tour as BBHC’s lead singer. It was the European connection that led her to meet Jennings and then Robert Plant’s sound engineer Roy Williams, who encouraged her to take her rightful place as a solo artist. Along the way she has played with Delbert McClinton, Dr. John, Junior Wells and appears on a compilation CD, Live at the Talbot, with Albert Lee.
Touring the UK in 2010 after the release of Tempered in Fire, Lisa was featured on the cover of Blues Matters magazine (along with none other than Plant and the Rolling Stones). Grahame Rhodes, writing for Blues in Northwest, described her as having “a stunning voice that comes over like a full-throated Otis Redding with some Muscle Shoals soul and Nashville country touches for good measure.”
Reviewing her Edinburgh performance, Rhythm and Blues noted her “strong soulful voice,” adding, “Lisa Mills is an artist to watch out for.”
Tempered in Fire was her second album collaboration with Jennings, who co-produced her 2005 I’m Changing. Her solo preproduction CD, “By Invitation Only,” also recorded live, drew high praise from Wade Wellborn of Currents Magazine. “These dynamic and inspiring performances help prove that Lisa Mills is the real deal; no studio tricks needed, no airbrushing required. By Invitation Only is a wonderful listen—soothing, bluesy, rocking, and sexy.”
Add “songwriter” to Wellborn’s descriptions (she wrote all 13 songs on By Invitation Only), and you’ve got Lisa. Look for her upcoming summer 2011 UK tour with Jennings and her performance at Colne Blues Festival or catch her in the states where she is coming full circle, making connections with gifted musicians who share her Southern roots.