Album Reviews

Lisa Biales

The Beat of My Heart

Artist:     Lisa Biales

Album:     The Beat of My Heart

Label:     Big Song Music

Release Date:     02/17/2017

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The inspiration for this record centers on one song which brings with it a heartwarming story. Like many musicians, Lisa Biales grew up in a musical family. Yet, she was unaware of her mother’s short-lived recording career. As she relates the story, “I had only one song in mind. It was a song my mother wrote. We discovered the 78 RPM 15 years after she was gone. The record was dated 1947, the place was LA, and the song was “Crying Over You” by Alberta Roberts. … I remember as a child hearing her sing around the house. One time she was singing while she was doing the dishes, she was staring out the kitchen window but she wasn’t looking at anything really, she was transported in time and lost in song. So when I heard the 78 record I realized it captured her years before the sadness, the longing, and the frustrations of her unfulfilled dreams crept in.” After cleaning up the original, Biales used her mother’s voice for the first verse and then took hold of the rest of it.

This is Biales’ ninth album and by now she has built the kind of reputation that earned her the support of Grammy-winning producer/drummer Tony Braunagle and a cast of some of L.A.’s best musicians. Johnny Lee Schell, for example, plays five different guitars. Smooth jazz guitarist Paul Brown lends his vintage 1957 Gibson L5 to “Romance in the Dark.” Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band) plays an array of keys while three different bassists (Chuck Berghofer, Larry Taylor, and Larry Fulcher) play on select tracks. Most of the tunes are augmented by either The Phantom Blues Band horns of Darrell Leonard and Joe Sublett or background singers. It’s a can’t-miss lineup.

Understand that Biales is an occasional songwriter but is primarily a song interpreter as she is throughout this effort. She chose some familiar writers (Nina Simone, Henry Glover, Fats Waller, Carrie Newcomer) but mostly relatively unfamiliar songs. Biales has all the necessary attributes of the best singers: phrasing, range, and nuance. She could make any tune sound terrific but takes pride in finding tunes that resonate with her due to a life experience or memorable musical discovery. Apart from the emotionally riveting “Crying Over You” other notable tracks include Simone’s “Be My Husband,” Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down,” and the gospel tune originally written for the Abyssinian Baptist Choir, “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.” Be assured though, there is no filler here.

Although this outing breaks no new ground, it finds Biales fronting larger ensembles and the best musicians she’s ever gathered for a session. She renders the wide ranging material so effortlessly that it masks the care that undoubtedly went into it. The emotional span of the material from ballads to foot stompers across jazz, pop, blues, and gospel shows us that Biales is one of today’s better and most versatile vocalists.

—Jim Hynes

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