Video games come to americana and the Black country experience.
Lizzie No took her stage name from the fact she was always being told “no” as a child, and to remind herself how important it is to say “no” to yourself when you are an adult, which starts to give a flavour of where this queer, black woman native of Brooklyn is coming from. Her third album ‘Halfsies’ looks at her experiences of working in country music with the twist that it is a concept album based on a video game format with a central character Miss Freedomland. The fundaments of the story are based on her own mother’s experience of being a five-year-old Miss Freedomland, an americana theme park in the Bronx, and how her mother resisted the attendant implications even as a child. It is no surprise that Lizzie No brings a novelist’s level of literacy to her songs, which while reflecting her folk, blues and country influences, also show a clear indie influence. Reflecting her influences, she is joined on ‘Halfsies’ by Allison Russell, members of the Attacca Quartet, and Brian Dunne, who all help her explore her views on the meaning of freedom and the Black experience.
The album opens with the title track which was inspired by Jackson Pollock’s painting technique and sets the scene for a journey after a life warped by trauma and the search for real freedom in what is supposedly the land of the free with support from the Attacca Quartet. ‘Sleeping In The Next Room’ could be seen as a simple breakup song, but it is also part of Lizzie No’s journey to find herself. Electric guitars replace the previous folk-influenced acoustic guitars as she reflects on the challenges of dealing with the baggage that can hold everybody back. Lizzie No’s country influence pokes through on ‘The Heartbreak Store’. Bluegrass and Minnie Riperton are celebrated on ‘Deadbeat’ with the help of the Attacca Quartet. ‘Done’ was recorded live in the studio and is ‘Halfsies’ nod to James Taylor. The Attacca Quartet are on the ‘Mourning Dove Waltz’ which was inspired by a pair of mourning doves nesting on Lizzie No’s New York balcony during the COVID lockdown. While the name is familiar, ‘Annie Oakley’ is about a Kansas motel, and what it’s like being a black singer passing through Kansas. Pedal steel colours ‘Shield And Sword’ which sees a breakup as a dash to freedom. Josh Grange’s pedal steel is featured again on ‘Getaway Car’ about lifelong friends who shared and supported your early life struggles. The Attacca Quartet are on the final track, a bluegrass gospel look at racism, and how to be Black in modern America is to be a stranger in a strange land.
Americana and country music are sometimes seen as timeless forms of music, but Lizzie No’s ‘Halfsies’ could only have been written in the United States of America in the 21st Century. She may be comfortable taking musical inspiration from the blues, country, folk, and soul but her lyrics and concerns relate to the Black experience in today’s America. Lizzie No may be happy to be bracketed with artists like Lucinda Williams, Allison Russell, and Rhiannon Giddens, but ‘Halfsies’ shows she has her own musical and lyrical style which marks her out as her own artist and should help move her career to the next level. As we know, video games are all about progress and levels, something ‘Halfsies’ shows Lizzie No understands perfectly.