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Lisa McClowry: Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy

Jeff Winbush By

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It's an interesting dilemma: how does a singer cover a band whose songs have no lyrics? The solution the Chicago-based tandem of vocalist Lisa McClowry and producer Jim Peterik came up with was not only to add lyrics to the songs of Acoustic Alchemy, but to invite the guitar duo of Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale to play them as well, making this not a tribute, but a collaboration.

McClowry's voice leans toward "jazzy" more than to "jazz," and that's fine since Acoustic Alchemy is not a classic jazz band either. The concept of adding lyrics to songs without them is one artists ranging from Cassandra Wilson to Joni Mitchell have taken on, with tributes to trumpeter Miles Davis and bassist Charles Mingus. McClowry's voice alternates between sweet and sassy, as she isn't going for gravitas as much as she's having fun taking on the challenge of reinterpreting selections spanning Acoustic Alchemy's 25-year catalog.

With both Carmichael and Gilderdale's blessing and active participation, Peterik—a solo artist himself and the songwriter of Survivor's hit "Eye of the Tiger"—penned lyrics for the songs and turned them over to McClowry and her four-octave range. She refrains from annoying vocal pyrotechnics and treats the material with courteous deference.

The B3 organ that opens "Knocking At the Door of Happiness," based on "AArt Attack," gives every indication of a pseudo-gospel approach before settling firmly into a pop groove that plays better to McClowry's strengths. The sultry "Teach You Tonight" and jubilant "Celebration Day"—based upon "The Velvet Swing" and "Playing For Time" respectively—acquit themselves quite nicely; "Visions of Marrakesh" and the pedal-steel country rock of "Love Me Back Home," not so much. "Sleepless Night" updates and improves upon "Love Is All There Is," from The Way (Narada, 2007), while "The Best is Yet to Come" takes the familiar "Ariane," from Blue Chip (GRP, 1989), and allows McClowry to infuse degrees of emotional depth only hinted at by the original.

There are multiple reasons why this collaboration could have rolled snake eyes, but it didn't; and its pleasing success is a credit to McClowry, Peterik, Carmichael, Gilderdale and all the other musicians who make Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy far more satisfying and accomplished than a one-off novelty project.

Track Listing: Got To Share This Feeling; Knocking On the Door of Happiness; Beautiful Mess; Visions of Marrakesh; Brand New Hallelujah; Love Me Back Home; Teach You Tonight; Celebration Day; Best Is Yet To Come; Come Inside; Sleepless Night

Personnel: Lisa McClowry: lead vocals, background vocals, choir; Greg Carmichael: guitars; Miles Gilderdale: guitars, programming and synths; Jim Peterik: additional guitars, percussion; Mike Aquino: additional guitars, mandolin (6) ; Jeff Lantz: piano, B3, charts; Khari Parker: drums; Bob Lizik: bass; Richard Patterson: bass (1, 8); Alex Ligertwood: background vocals (7, 10); T.C. Furlong: pedal steel (6); Steve Cole: saxophone (10); Steve Eisen: percussion

Title: Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: World Stage International Records

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