Brian Lisik. The Mess that Money Could Buy.
Cherokee Queen Records, 2012. Brian Lisik: http://www.brianlisik.com/
Let’s begin with the obvious. Brian Lisik has remarkably hairy arms. I only say this as a warning to folks before they see the cover of his CD. His dark hair contrasts against his light skin on an otherwise mostly deep-blue cover, and the effect is jarring. However in many respects this contrast is reflected in his music, running from rock to country and back, sometimes somewhere in-between. Lisik is in full roots mode on his third album, moving from strength to strength with well-played, melodic tunes, using his sandpaper tenor to highlight eleven new songs with the help of a fine band.
Much has been made in the music press about Lisik’s Akron origins, how the soup of Northeast Ohio music has influenced his sound, his similarity to Wilco or the Replacements, or some other touchstone band. I suppose that could all be true, and some of it is flattering, but I hear other things too. Hell, in his dynamite opening track, “Small Town Royal Family,” I hear the Beatles in the guitar playing and the Kinks in the song structure, and the third song, “To California,” is reminiscent of Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. Critics and fans can play this game all day long. the question is whether Lisik is worth hearing on his own. The answer is yes.
I really like his first three tunes on this album, more or less as a single unit. While each is different in structure and intent, they are all strong rockers with a big, full sound. Each uses a memorable repetitive riff or hook and each has a tightness that you don’t often hear these days in songs. For most of the album, Lisik is a three minutes and out kind of guy, no nonsense, no extended soloing. The fourth track, “The Longest Day of the Year,” is the longest song on the album, clocking at nearly four minutes, but it’s a power ballad and it takes time to tell a story. It’s a good song, but I tend to like his faster tunes.
Deeper into the album, he starts to sound a bit more country in style, although he moves back and forth. “I’m Satisfied,” along with the last two tracks run along these lines. It’s on these where you can hear some really fine instrumental work, with just a few instruments. Jennifer O’Neal shines on violin in “Last Words,” (she’s great elsewhere too, such as on “Yesterday wasn’t Real”) and Steve Norgrove’s guitar playing in “I Want to Go Home” has a delicate quality that I find charming. The remaining songs are mostly great, especially “Five Other Rooms” and “Yesterday wasn’t Real.” From my perspective, the only real misstep is “Nights in Shining Armore,” where Lisik tries to go too high in the vocals. It sounds forced.
The Mess that Money Could Buy is a fine album, and I encourage folks to check it out. If I have one complaint, it’s that Lisik tends to end his songs rather abruptly. I’m not sure how one should necessarily end a song, but it seems that there ought to be a better way than just stopping on a dime. And I wish I had a lyric sheet, because what I could make out I enjoyed, but I couldn’t make out everything.
Personnel: Brian Lisik (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, Fender Rhodes, percussion), Steve Norgrove (electric & upright bass, resonator, Ashbory, backing vocals, percussion, electric guitar on “Rooms,” and all instruments on “Home”), Craig Lisik (drums, electric guitar, slide guitar), Ben Evans (piano, organ, Wurlitzer), Jennifer O’Neal (violin, cello, vocals), Drew Clair (drunken hollering guy on “Satisfied”), Christian Lisik (backing vocals on “California”), Clint Holley (harmonica).
Tracks: Small Town Royal Family, Change on Your Own, To California, Longest Day of the Year, I’m Satisfied, A Mess, Nights in Shining Armore, Five Other Rooms, Yesterday wasn’t Real, I Want to Go Home, Last Words. (Listing based on CD metadata, rather than the back cover--there are spelling discrepancies that make librarians crazy!)