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album review: lisa brigantino, wonder wheel

Sometime within the past month, I received a really interesting package in my makeshift Brooklyn mailbox. Considering that I am used to getting bills, random cards from my parents and a weekly subscription to TV Guide even though I don’t have a TV (thanks Nana!), this package was certainly out of the ordinary. On the front of it was a hand-written (!) note from Brooklyn singer-songwriter Lisa Brigantino mentioning Dunja’s name. I sat there puzzled for a minute, then suddenly it all clicked – I had given my physical address a long time ago to her for this opportunity but had clearly forgotten about it.

Before I even popped the CD into my computer, Lisa Brigantino had spiked my interest. In our world, in these days, her decision to mail me the physical album was truly unique.

I am pretty sure it’s a consequence of my career, generation and the city I call home, but I think about the internet a lot. I often find myself in conversations about how the internet has changed our lives for better and worse with different end decisions almost every time. It’s a topic I bring up in every interview I do for Lip and something I think or talk about every day. The numerous requests I get to check out websites, Facebook pages, press-only YouTube videos and various other EPKs solidifies that the days of mailing demos are long gone.

Going against the grain like that made me like her right away.

Then I took a few solid listens to Wonder Wheel and only liked her more. It should’ve been more obvious that anyone that dedicated to promoting her album so personally had reason to be proud of her creation. After the third run-through, I visited her website and was seeing the incredible list of credentials on her bio (one of the original members of Lez Zeppelin, the world’s first all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, a solid list of theater, film and TV scores and clear evidence of songwriting talent). Based on the album cover and the website, I had a certain idea of what to expect on her album, picturing someone between Ingrid Michaelson and Alison Krauss. Wonder Wheel surely has shades of those influences, but it’s also something really remarkable in its own right.

From the very first song “Go and Find It”, you can hear Lisa’s amazing multi-instrumental talent.  The song is rooted in a catchy acoustic guitar melody layered on top of fast-paced scaling guitars and drum beats. “Go and Find It” sounds like something I’ve heard on the radio or at the bar. It’s a great first track to entice the listener into Lisa Brigantino’s pop world.

The album is much more than just pop, though.

A Little Sympathy” mixes the big band sound of 80s Bruce Springsteen with the danceable nerdiness of 90s indie rock adding a distinct female voice. The song takes the album in a completely different direction than what I had come to expect in the best way possible.

My favorite track on the album, though, is “I Gotta Find Me Somethin”. The harmonization and use of the mandolin and kazoo give this song a feel of ‘40s or ‘50s music that you might hear one of those all-girl groups playing at a carnival. Or some other mid-century thing featuring a circus tent and those big old lightbulbs. I know that is an odd reference to make, but it seriously the song could be fit right in with Big Fish. I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the past three days.

Lisa’s songwriting talent is most apparent on “Departure” and “The Wandering”. It might be because I am at a point in my own life when thinking about growing up and my role as an adult is my second most pondered topic, besides maybe the internet. Her honest lyrics, mellow guitarwork and powerful vocals create the kind of catchy universality that might make John Mayer jealous.

Wearing yet a different hat, Lisa demonstrates her rocker side on “This Town” and “Motel Room in the Dangerous Part of Town”. These songs are perhaps her weakest, but the hard rock feel adds a different catchiness to these songs.

Title track “Wonder Wheel” is a perfect marriage of all of Lisa’s talents: songwriting, fully rounded out beat, strong vocals, a universal pop sensibility and commercial appeal. “Wonder Wheel” has a true positivity that separates it from the rest of the album from the first note of the song.

All in all, Lisa Brigantino mailing Wonder Wheel to me is one of the most interesting things that’s happened to me over the past three months. It would’ve been awesome if the album sucked, too, I guess, but the fact that I liked it as much as I did made the whole thing that much cooler. Wonder Wheel is available now.

Be sure to visit Lisa’s facebook page for more information and updates!

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