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In Philly: Winning performance in a can't-win situation

Written by John J. Moser | MCall.com.

lmp ny 2012 390 2wLisa Marie Presley having a music career is a can’t-win situation. Even if she’s good – as she was Monday in kicking off her first tour in more than five years at Philadelphia’s World Café Live – the standard against which she’s measured is her father, Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll.  

The audience was dancing, too. 
And can’t-win be damned, it was a winner.

Of course, that’s not fair. Presley gave no reason for the comparison in a way-too-short 45-minute show.Her stage presence was anything but bombastic – rather, it was muted, with her face often cast downward and her voice sometimes too muted.

And her choice of material also was diametrically anti-Elvis: Nine of the 11 cuts from her critically acclaimed country/blues/Americana album “Storm & Grace,” released a month ago as her first disc in more than seven years, and a reworked version of her decade-old first single. And now 44, older than her father was when he died (but looking far younger), Presley appeared healthy and happy – thin and slight, frequently smiling as she thanked the smallish audience of perhaps 300.

What Presley should be compared with is country singers of today – and in that match-up she fares far better, no worse than in the middle of the pack, with better material.

Dressed in all black pants and jacket, she came on stage to a dramatic intro of field-chant blues and opened with “So Long,” backed by a five-man band (music director and husband of six years Michael Lockwood on lead guitar). Her voice was low in the mix.

“OK, it’s been seven years,” she said after the song. “You have to give me a minute. Have to get my stage legs back.” She later said the band had only one day of rehearsal.

And on her second song, “Over Me,” she did have far more attitude in her voice – less inhibited, as she danced slightly and played a tambourine, as she would all evening. By the third song, “Weary,” she was smiling and confident, her voice boozy and, indeed, sounding weary. The imperfections in her voice – and there were a few – simply made it more authentic.

Explaining the set would be mostly her new album, she launched into the first single, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” the disc’s first single, which she sang on FOX-TV’s “American Idol” last month. On it, she channeled Lucinda Williams and, to Presley’s credit, reached for a big note.

But the next two songs showed Presley at her best. “Soften the Blows” – flat-out country with pedal steel guitar – was honestly as good as most of what’s on country radio. And “Forgiving” was percolating, simmering country on which she again reached.

On the chugging “Storm of Nails” she even curled her lip slightly like her father. (A bit of that unfair comparison here: Presley looks strikingly like her mother, Priscilla, but takes on more of her father’s appearance when she sings. And one can’t help but notice a glimpse of her father’s voice occasionally, too.)

The surprise may be that Lisa Marie Presley has her own fans; several people actually sang along to “Storm of Nails.”

Another surprise was the straight-up rock vibe of “Un-Break,” on which she played drums and gave her voice a weird affectation – not unlike, but far better than, Britney Spears. It drew big cheers.

She closed the main part of the set with the album’s title track, which could easily be about her father, with lyrics such as “You have the most beautiful heart/That I've ever known/It kills me you can't ever show it/And a shell has been gown.”

A slow and emotional country song with a whining pedal steel guitar, Presley embraced it, singing in a purple light.

But the encore of “Lights Out,” the 2003 hit from her debut disc “To Whom It May Concern,” was played as a slide-blues shuffle. Presley went all out vocally, leaning as she sang, then dancing and smiling.

The audience was dancing, too. And can’t-win be damned, it was a winner.

Read the article at MCall.com 


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