For the uninitiated, My Wild West is a good jumping on point for Lissie. It’s full of the old school country sound that characterizes her best work—all strummed guitars and yearning vocals. For long-time fans, however, the album feels like the artist is running in place.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy here. Many of the tracks are very good. “Daugthers,” a lively call to arms is catchy and urgent while the final track “Ojai” has a lovely wistful quality. Perhaps the album’s best track, though, is “Stay.” Lissie has always been a gifted lyricist and this contains some of her best work on the album. Lines like “Can you smell my desperation from miles and miles away?” and “It’s not that I am bitter/But I’m different than any youth,” crackle with regret and slowly build the emotion until finally bursting open in a glorious, cathartic release.
In truth, the emotion–the wildness–that breaks through there sits just below the surface of most of the tracks. There are even moments where nature itself breaks through the music, like the occasional whippoorwill calls in in “Sun Keeps Risin’.” Mostly, however, that wildness manifests in Lissie’s vocals. Unfortunately, it feels like she’s holding back throughout.
Lissie is often at her best when she sings about lost love, like on “In Sleep” from 2010’s Catching a Tiger or even her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” with its yearning vocals and booming drums. None of the songs on My Wild West have quite that fire or passion. Lyrically, the closest is “Hollywood,” the album’s second track. Yet lines like, “Oh Hollywood/You break my will like they said you would,” and “If it hurts/It means you’ve grown,” are sung with such measured mournfulness that they don’t have the impact they could or should. Instead, they sound like a cheesy cautionary tale from a country song.
Still, that’s not to say Lissie needs a livelier tempo to succeed. “Everywhere I Go” off of her 2009 EP Why You Runnin’ is one of her best and it’s as stripped down and downbeat as anything she’s done. What makes that song work, though, is how far she pushes her voice, wailing–sometimes in harmony with herself–to convey her emotions. Here, from the album’s first track, the vocal-less “My Wild West Overture,” the music seems to be building toward something but always gets cut off just before it gets there. Even when Lissie does give into the emotion, it always seems to be at the exact same point in the song three-quarters of the way through. Every song is so similarly constructed that it’s difficult to distinguish one from the other.
To put it simply, My Wild West feels too polite, too subdued. Lissie takes no risks emotionally or musically. For an album that seems to be about an unrestricted search for self in the wild, it’s disappointingly controlled.
My Wild West Rating: 5.5/10