While this is a rock blog, (well, for the most part) I gotta admit, I am a true Texan deep in my heart. I am a huge fan of bluegrass, country swing and folk music. And while this type of music is not exclusively Texas, I like to think my Texas roots have something to do with my draw to these genres.
Having said that, I was thrilled to have one of the first listens of singer/songwriter Vanessa Lively’s new album, Uncovering Stones. Filled with universal themes of hope, love, questioning, struggles and searching, Lively achieves the ambitious task of telling a rich story with many moods and personalities.
Lively, in case you are not aware, is San Antonio-born but based in Austin.
Lively was most early affected musically by superwoman artist Tori Amos. “She was one of the first artists as a teenager I was introduced and be inspired by,” Lively says, “I used to paint to her music and I think that had a profound effect on me because she was so out there, and she was just free and liberated to do what she wanted with her music. She was creating her art and not catering to anyone else.”
She was also inspired by Ani DiFranco, which actually took some time to grow on the young Lively, but eventually became a huge influence on her. She, of course, loved the Beatles and grew up on them and from the Beatles stemmed her finding of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bob Marley, who had a huge inspiration on Lively as well. Marley’s use of music for social change had a major influence on Lively.
“For me music is not just about the music, like the sounds and the textures, but it’s about making little changes in people’s lives; either they listen to it and they feel inspired to live their life fully or they listen to it and they are empowered by it,” Lively reflects, ”Or if they are going through a really hard time and they hear a song that speaks to them in that moment that they feel comforted. And that’s how I feel music has been in my life, and it’s more than just a soundtrack, it’s given me strength when I needed it or comfort when I was sad and so I like that level of music: honest and real life in songs.”
She wrote her first songs in 2004, but it always felt intuitive. When she isn’t singing, Lively’s second expression is through painting. In fact, the album cover is 42 smaller paintings that were put together to form a full cover. Once the album cover photo of the paintings was taken, Lively sold off each painting individually to help finance the recording sessions. A really cool timelapse of the painting process of the album cover it available at http://www.vanessalively.com
Uncovering Stones is Lively’s fourth full length album, including her last album which came out last year and was a tribute to socially conscience Mercedes Sosa from Argentina, who had a profound effect personally on Lively. And although the album process is not new to her, Uncovering Stones feels different from the other ones. “I feel like it’s the first album where I know what my voice is, I know what my style is, and I feel more comfortable as a musician and I’ve had a lot experience behind me at this point, so to me it does feel like one of the first albums that I am putting out that is not just documenting where I’m at. It’s the one I really wanted to put out in the world and say, ‘Okay, this is my music’”.
A little bit of background, she lived in South America doing volunteer work as well as working as a migrant farm worker on a blueberry farm for a couple summer in Maine, which would explain those Latin and migrant roots that are deeply-embedded in the music, and how she sings so beautiful in Spanish!
So I’m going to get right down to it: I like this album a lot. To be honest, it is the perfect soundtrack for this summer with its low key mood and fluid tracks, it goes perfect with a patio and a cold drink (overlooking the Hill Country, of course). Every song is unique and different and the feeling is that this is intentional. No song sounds like another, and there is something very refreshing and oddly new about this. While so many artists develop a pattern that can sound very monotonous or predictable, Lively keeps you on your toes by creating a diverse tapestry that transports you to another world—her world.
Rather than go on about how special each song is, I would rather you check out the album and if you are looking for the real story of the inspiration of the songs, check out www.vanessalively.com and she has an entire section devoted to each song’s meaning and musical roots. Her album covers a number of genres including reggae (‘Digging Up Dirt’), folk (‘Through The Veil’, ‘Men In White Hats’, ‘Follow Your Heart’), Latin (‘Estoy Volando’, ‘Baile Conmigo’), Americana & bluegrass (‘Honeybee’, Princess Song’), down-tempo (‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘Learning to Breathe’) just raw acoustic (‘Playing Games’) and a mixture of all in-between.
The strongest songs are on the back half of the album. The strong favorites (in my humble opinion) are ‘Honeybee’ and ‘The Lost Boys’, both completely different. ‘Honeybee’ is very rooted in Bluegrass and even has an Irish flair to the melody. The use of fiddle is very well balanced to the dancing beat, and has a very catchy chorus. I sing it in my head at least once a day. ‘The Lost Boys’ is a darker, quieter and more powerful ballad that is not only deep as a song, but also in its tone. It is sandwiched between ‘Honeybee’ and ‘Follow Your Heart’ which is sweet and empowering, so to be so dark is very obvious and heavier in effect. It is a beautiful ballad and very powerful.
While I won’t go into each song for review (that would take the fun out of listening to it yourself!), I will say that there is no way to write this album off without listening to it in its entirety. Each song tells a story and has a story, and like the paintings on the cover where each painting is its own and makes up a whole, the songs are as individual as Lively, yet make up who she is.
“When I’m moving too fast, I don’t have a chance to be creative.”
Lively’s ultimate goal is to be a living artist. She and her husband are also freelance graphic artists/web designers for musicians, and make money on the side when they can, but it isn’t steady or consistent. According to Lively, “Music is more steady than the graphic work.” In her opinion, as long as she can pay her bills and be an artist, with both paint and music, then that is her ultimate dream. “I feel like it’s an organic process of slow growth. I am growing as an artist and I’m growing out with more exposure which creates more interest in my music and more CD sales and more shows. It’s slow, but I like it slow. I just feel I would be so happy if I could not worry every month about the bills and just be an artist. That’s it.”
As simple as that goal seems, Lively works very hard to get there. Uncovering Stones is being released on Tuesday, with an album release party on Tuesday, June 21st at the Cactus Café on UT Campus. Lively is then booked to go on tour and promote the album and hope to pick up a bigger following and inspire those who are looking for inspiration.
Vanessa Lively is a very special musician in that she does not limit herself on what she can play and what she wants to discuss in her music. She is not afraid to become vulnerable with her audience and as a result, her audience is not afraid to open up to her. I foresee a promising and beautiful career consisting of writing and performing some very impactful and memorable songs. Be sure to check her out Tuesday, June 21st at the Cactus Cafe on UT Campus from 8pm to 10pm, and her tour schedule on her website www.vanessalively.com. You can also purchase all her albums, including Uncovering Stones, view live performances, learn about her and her music, and even buy merch!
Summer 2011, here comes Vanessa Lively!