By the end of Eliza Lynn’s Frisky or Fair, it’s clear that the Asheville-based singer/songwriter has put time into practicing her craft. Lynn’s songwriting mines the history of traditional music, grabbing pieces of the good stuff, the elements that make a melody “classic,” and reworking them into an original, yet comfortably familiar sound. The album as a whole retains an effortless quality, with nothing wasted, and everything feeling very much in its place.
There’s irony in the use of the word “effortless” though, as Lynn admits to spending years on her lyrics. Take for example her being self-described as “seasonally dependent” on the appearance of honeysuckle blooms to finish the verses to — you guessed it — the song “Honeysuckle.”
The end results are tunes that are as literally concise as the instrumentation is economical. Most songs use only a few instruments and voice, some even less, as in “You Go ‘Round Corners” which has only a single vocal and Joe Mohar’s tap dancing as accompaniment.
While much of the CD has that neo-traditional vibe, there’s some contemporary stuff peeking out here and there. “Honeysuckle” recalls Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily era sounds, thanks to the reverby guitar and dry funk drumming. “Slow Down” manages to meld this more modern feel with the traditional instrumentation (fiddle and banjo) found through the rest of the album.
The rolling, haunting waltz of “China” supports some of the best lyrics on the CD. “Why do we grab dreams like second-hand coats?” is a powerful question, and heck, it just sounds cool. There are even a few forays into vintage swing, as heard in “Not 10 Miles,” “Wild Turkey,” and “Sing A New Song.” Dale Roberts’ cornet on “Not 10 Miles” is a classy touch.
The manner in which the recording was funded also is of note: Lynn contacted her network of friends and took preorders for the album, thus minimizing out of pocket expense, which can be exceptionally painful for independent artists. This method also guarantees a certain amount of distribution for the music, especially considering the length of Lynn’s thank-you list. They can’t all be local, you know?
Frisky or Fair stands out from the recent crop of traditional leaning Americana in Asheville. While Lynn has a “familiar” quality to her writing, it never comes across as shamelessly borrowing (stealing?) from classic influences. There’s also a lyrical depth, yet simplicity, that completes the package nicely. Kudos to Jeff Knorr at Collapseable Studio in Asheville for giving the music the breathing room it needs. A little frisky at times, but much, much better than fair, I’d say. 4 stars.