Once the lead vocalist of sibling country quartet, Jypsi, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Lillie Mae Rische, has been in close connection with legendary songwriter Jack White, of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather fame, since the recording of his debut solo album, Blunderbuss, in 2011. The recording sessions of White’s first full-length solo endeavour came about with session musicians around the Nashville area being called in at short notice as and when necessary, with Rische appearing to provide violin on the final song on the album, Take Me With You When You Go. As it happens, White did take Rische with him when he went; when he went on tour, that is, with Rische providing fiddle and occasional backing vocals as part of The Peacocks, the all-female version of White’s two backing bands brought on the road with him following the release of Blunderbuss in 2012. White has always been known to gel well with his fellow musicians, particularly the women with whom he so often finds himself working, but there was an especially potent chemistry conveyed between White and Rische, with live renditions of songs like The White Stripes’ I’m Slowly Turning Into You and The Raconteurs’ Top Yourself seeing the pair playfully exchange guitar and fiddle solos. Upon the release of White’s second solo effort, 2014’s Lazaretto, the musician took to the road with just one backing band this time around, with Rische being the only member of The Peacocks to join him on tour. Being a record producer and the founder of Third Man Records as well as a musician, White often takes fellow musicians with whom he has worked under his wing and facilitates the development and release of their own material, with Forever and Then Some, the debut solo album from Rische, now recording solely under the name Lillie Mae, being the latest addition to the TMR roster. As for the direction taken by Lillie Mae on her first solo excursion, the singer sticks to her guns and pursues a blend of Appalachian genres, primarily country, bluegrass and Americana, in a rather traditional style, whilst incorporating elements of other styles of folk music, as well as rock, pop and soul. Whilst nothing groundbreaking in principle or execution, Forever and Then Some displays the artist’s knowledge of, and appreciation for, her musical roots, capturing the spirit of the retro, tear-in-my-beer, honky tonk stylings of the likes of Hank Williams, whilst extending her sound to reach beyond mere idolatry.
The appeal of Forever and Then Some hits the listener over the head right from the onset, as the album opener and lead single, Over the Hill and Through the Woods, sees a lone vocal anacrusis from Lillie Mae open the saloon doors to an explosive entry from the twangy acoustic guitar, dainty mandolin noodling and clicky electric guitar incidentals. The entire song has a loveable, bluegrass jam vibe to it, with each instrument, even the drums, throwing in small embellishments here and there that pepper the piece with an engaging element of pure human passion, whilst the well-assembled song structure and the crisp country vocal harmonies ensure the band stays on track. As with so many singles produced under the supervision of Jack White, Over the Hill and Through the Woods retains the spirit of a live performance, and is much better for it, aptly capturing the essence of country music’s communal significance. I often maintain that the best artists that country music has to offer have the ability to transport the listener, whether they be in a sleepless metropolis or an isolated hamlet, to the Americana landscapes or sepia tone small towns that provide the perfect, pastoral environment to harbour the writing of such music. Over the Hill and Through the Woods scores a lot of points in this regard, as do many of the best moments across Forever and Then Some. The following song, Honky Tonks and Taverns, for instance, translates exactly the sentiment one would expect from a song with such a title, with the sweet guitar melodies, fiddle and mandolin incidentals and light brush work from the drums being perfectly suited as the soundtrack to drowning one’s troubles at the bar. Lillie Mae’s lyricism of plaintive lamentation, delivered with just the right amount of archetypal country twang, also conveys this setting vividly. Indeed, the greatest success of Forever and Then Some is the extent to which it is dripping with the lifeblood of Nashville and its culture, painting a picture of this setting with such lucidity that it really requires no effort on the listener’s part to find themselves lost in the streets of Music City, U.S.A.
Across Forever and Then Some, Lillie Mae proudly wears her influences on her sleeve, and I’m sure I won’t be the first to draw comparisons between her style of vocal resonance and that of female country luminaries such as Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. Of course, the artist is sure to intersperse the impact of such inspirations on her music amidst the cues taken from other genres, such as rockabilly, folk and pop, rather than brazenly paraphrase the works of her influences. As such, there is a relatively satisfying supply of variety across the record, both in terms of style and mood, from the melancholic Americana balladry of Wash Me Clean to the bustling honky-tonk jam of These Daze, but all such sounds will be very familiar to the listener. Indeed, Lillie Mae is hardly breaking new ground on Forever and Then Some, and there is some slight treading of water towards the backend of the tracklisting, as most of the songs begin to take the form of teary-eyed country ballads, but the solid songwriting and animated execution provide more than enough substance to prevent this release from being a one-time listen for most country fans. Whether it be the hypnotic, organ-driven, swamp rock vibe and stylistic diversity of Dance to the Beat of My Own Drum or the swirling, sweet and tender mandolin melody courtesy of Lillie Mae’s sister and fellow Jypsi member, Scarlett Rische, on Honest and True, the compelling and memorable moments on Forever and Then Some are plentiful, and are sure to keep many a music listener with an appreciation for the soundscapes of Appalachia coming back for more.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10