Je ne sais quoi.
It’s hard to capture in words what it is about singer/songwriter Lisa McClendon’s voice that appeals to the ear. She doesn’t distract the listener with melodramatic squalls, scale-skipping riffs, or over-processed vocals. Her voice connects with you and is familiar. She sounds like someone you know personally, and after hearing her songs, you feel as if you’ve just caught up with a close friend over some really good home cooked food. That’s just what’s getting served up on her new album Reality.
Early in her career Lisa made her mark by simply choosing to tell it like it is, and a surge in popularity confirmed her audience was listening. Her touching raspy alto often draws comparisons to Lauryn Hill and gets her categorized somewhere between neo-soul and gospel.
Buzz generated from her nakedly honest debut My Diary, Your Life was enough to get her signed to Integrity Gospel. The next few years brought us two full-length releases: the definitive Soul Music (2003) and the stirring Live from the House of Blues (2006). She also won nominations for both Stellar and Dove awards, but it’s fitting that Lisa finally returns to her free-wheeling roots as an independent artist releasing the new album on her own label, DG Music.
“The dark side about being on a major label for me, I would say, was that, I had a lot more creative freedom on an independent label. So, now here I am at this bigger label and everybody has somebody to answer to, so they’re only doing their job. So, you do a song that you think is wonderful and great and they go ‘oh well that’s too soulful…that’s too real… that’s too transparent… the church is not gonna get that…that might be offensive.’” – Lisa McClendon, in an excerpt from an interview with EEW Magazine.
After what seems too long a hiatus, she reintroduces herself appropriately with the jazzy lead single “Pause (Selah).” Her voice is still forthrightly engaging as she hypothesizes “if I could put the world on pause.” Returning again to the transparency that first endeared her to the gospel community, the lyrics sound like another page ripped from her diary.
Lisa must be feeling much more comfortable in her skin these days. It’s evident as she lets her earthy beauty and ebullient smile shine through in the artfully crafted music video for “Pause” below:
On the confident “Immabeme (Unapologetic),” she embraces a contemporary R&B style with big beats and proves her music doesn’t cater exclusively to 70’s soul crate diggers. Her freedom is also evident on “Please Help Me Now (A Sista’s Cry)” which takes full advantage of her indie status, donning a throwback hip-hop vibe courtesy of the breakbeat from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.”
“Lust or Love” examines sexual temptation in light of the God’s definition of true love. But with a swaying beat that gently thumps underneath, you can’t be certain if you’re hearing a song or a sermon. Gospel music can be one of the best tools for ministry when you’re so into the music that you don’t realize you’re being fed the word of God.
One of the most easily accessible tracks is “Makeover” with its running bassline and heavenly acoustic guitar. The song sweetly makes its point by pointing out coveted things that “may make my outfit look cute, but it won’t make my heart new.”
For Reality, Lisa called on the help of super-producer Herb Middleton. Middleton has the hit-man behind smashes for Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Kenny Lattimore, Usher, and more. On a couple occasions, the production gets so busy that it upstages Lisa’s simplistic charms, but the integrity of her message is never hindered. It’s great to hear from this pioneering voice in modern gospel music. I sincerely hope it won’t be as long before she blesses us again.
For more info, visit her website lisamcclendon.com, her official MySpace page, or follow @LisaMcClendon on Twitter. Reality is available for physical purchase at Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart; and available for digital download on iTunes, Amazon, and other retailers.