Click to hear: “Eye to Eye”
Portland singer/strummer Dominique Lise toiled in a variety of rock, folk and blues cover bands for most of the ’90s, then took a few years off before reemerging with a new band and an album’s worth of original material.
The 14 songs on her debut solo release, 20 Years, show a mature singer getting comfortable with the craft of songwriting. Lise (pronounced “lease”) doesn’t take many chances here, delivering straightforward groove-rock and electric folk songs about relationships and personal experiences.
Backing her live – and, in part, during these recording sessions – are the Groove Disciples, a local bar band made up of former Piners drummer Tim Myers; Jason Ward, late of Rustic Overtones, on keys; guitarist Paul Newton and five-string bassist Greg Goodwin. Bill Butler, a.k.a. Billy the Butcher, produced 20 Yearsand played guitar and organ on several tracks – most notably, “Noah’s Coming Home” and the title track, on which he rips through killer, compact solos that’ll have you grabbing for your air ax.
Things get off to a promising start with the pop-punk opener “Eye To Eye,” but sadly, this is as hard as Lise dares to rock on this record – though the crunchy “Fit In And Be Cool” comes close. Even when a tune kicks off with a meaty riff, like “20 Years” does, the band invariably falls back into the kind of mid-tempo, semi-funky groove popularized by Dave Matthews. (Promo materials say Lise is “[o]ften referred to as the ‘female Dave Matthews.'”) It’s easy on the ear, but seldom grabs it, and even then, it can’t hold on.
Most of the tunes here are fairly catchy, though again, there are few surprises. The clean production and tight playing on 20 Years fit the dictates of commercial adult-rock radio stations like WCLZ, which included one of Lise’s songs on an earlier Greetings from Area Code 207 compilation, and has given her a smidge of airplay of late.
Far be it from me to give Lise and the Disciples the kind of advice that’d get them banned from the ‘CLZ playlist, but I wish they’d rock more and roll less, get bluesier or funkier, or chuck it all and go join the alt-country crowd. Lise’s strong, versatile voice and the band’s obvious chops prove they could find success in several musical directions, but to get somewhere worth going, they should stay out of the middle of the road.
— Chris Busby
Dominique Lise and the Groove Disciples celebrate the release of 20 Years on Sat., April 21, at The Big Easy, 55 Market St., Portland, at 9:30 p.m., with Roy Davis and Bullyclub (Lise goes on at 10:15 p.m.). Tix: $7 (21+). 871-8817. bigeasyportland.com.