Titling her newest record "The Laziest Girl in Town" may seem ironic for vocalist and new mom Elizabeth McQueen. For the past year and a half McQueen has been the very opposite of lazy - raising the newest addition to her family, Lisel Blossom Sanger McQueen, on the road while touring the country with the Grammy Award winning band Asleep at the Wheel. It was this experience that inspired McQueen to conceive and create her newest record – one that explores the beauty of imperfection, and the immediacy of emotion. “When you’re logging in thousands of miles with a baby in tow, you learn to let go of the need to get everything right and you come to appreciate all that life throws at you. I wanted to see if I could have that same attitude in the studio.”
McQueen was also adamant that this CD invoke the feel and mood of some of her favorite singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, who recorded without the aid of multitrack recording and excessive overdubs. With this in mind she enlisted the help of Floyd Domino (Asleep At the Wheel, George Strait), Jonathan Doyle (Mighty Blue Kings, White Ghost Shivers) and three long-time musical collaborators David Sanger (Asleep At The Wheel), Andrew Nafziger (Kelly Willis, Marcia Ball) and Lindsay Greene (Seth Walker) to create ten sides with virtually fix-free basic tracks; four of which were recorded totally live – vocals and all. Adding to the list of incredible musicians, she also recruited vocalists Claire Small, jazz all-star Kat Edmonson and recent transplant to Austin Beverly Lewis to create beautiful background harmonies. McQueen exalts that this was “one of the best recording experiences of her life” – one that focused on abandoning the perfection attainable with modern technology and capturing what really moves her about music – the humanity of performance. The outcome is a combination of what McQueen describes as “roots jazz with some R&B, a splash of Texas drawl and just a hint of pop.”
Life on the road can be a “Goddamn impossible way of life,” as Robbie Robertson famously said. Touring with an infant sounds to most like straight up insanity. But the thought of separating the family to allow one parent to tour while the other stayed with their daughter was inconceivable to both McQueen and her husband, Wheel drummer David Sanger. So they invested in their own Sprinter Van (known as the “Baby Bus” to the rest of the world) to follow the Whee bus from city to city. They hired a nanny to come along for the ride and care for little Lisel. It wasn’t easy and yet “any and all sacrifices were willingly made,” says McQueen, “because being together as a family is incredible. And playing music is incredible. And exploring the country with our daughter is incredible.” McQueen admits balancing performing with managing time between Lisel’s naps and eating schedule was taxing but she vows, “having a child imbued me with a sense of confidence and serenity I didn’t even know I was lacking. And after having raised a baby on the road, I pretty much feel like I can do anything.” She adds, “I found my voice and strength somewhere between Maine and San Francisco.”
This newfound confidence and experience inspired Elizabeth to make the record that had been percolating inside of her for years. Prior to her time with The Wheel, she was primarily inspired by a mixture of male artists from the country and rock genres. Robbie Fulks, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe – these were her heroes, the artists she tried to emulate. You can clearly hear that influence on her first two records "The Fresh Up Club" and "Happy Doing What We’re Doing" where she evokes as much swagger as she does softness. Her taste started to evolve from swagger to swing after she joined Asleep at the Wheel in 2005. Working alongside some of the best musicians in the country encouraged her to “up her game” both musically and vocally. The Wheel’s material challenged her to expand her musical knowledge and got her studying some of the greatest female singers in American music. “I knew in order to stand in the shoes of vocalists like Chris O’Connell and Maryann Price I needed to learn some new licks.” Thus began her exploration of her new heroes: Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Julie London and Betty Carter to name a few. Soon, McQueen was not only singing, but also writing in a whole new way. “I started writing songs that really reflected what I was listening to and playing, night after night. I was using much more interesting chord patterns and exploring more complex melodic ideas. And I was writing more than I ever had before.” Six if these new songs made is onto the record, the most originals McQueen has ever recorded on one project. Cole Porter’s “The Laziest Gal in Town,” her album’s namesake, was the song that cemented her decision to make an album of those compositions she had been writing and singing over those five years. “I learned the song from the Nina Simone version and just loved the emotion in her voice. How she conveyed weariness and sexiness all at the same time. And I knew I wanted to make a record where I tried to sing like that - to sing like everything mattered.”
This is the credo she brought into the studio. The recording process she refers to as “one of the best recording experiences of her life” focused on abandoning the perfection attainable with modern technology to capture what really moves her about music – the humanity of performance. “Digital recording technology can be great,” says McQueen, “It’s made everything much more accessible. But having the ability to fix every snare hit and bass flub has made us all a little lazy. And sometimes we forget music doesn’t move people just because we hit the notes in tune and in time. It’s the emotion that is most compelling, and you get emotion in the moment. A lot of modern recordings sound really good, but leave me feeling kind of “eh.” But with an Ella side or a Nina Simone track I feel it, deeply. Their technology didn’t allow for unlimited chances. People played at the same time, and so often what you’re hearing is this amazing record of a moment in time.” McQueen elected to record the tracks with everyone in the same room so they knew they had to play like they couldn’t fix it. With this in mind she chose the members of her band. “I knew exactly who I wanted to be on the record,” says McQueen, “because I knew they’d all be up for the challenge. And they all were. It was probably the best time I’ve ever had in the studio. Everyone put their egos on hold and totally went for it.”
You can hear this on every track of "The Laziest Girl in Town" – warmth and dynamic energy of musicians playing with and to each other. One common thread runs through every experience in McQueen’s life – do what it takes to be present in each moment. From recording her own music to the precious daily discoveries of being a new mother, Elizabeth McQueen has made conscious decisions to pursue authenticity and happiness, which is exactly what you’ll hear when you listen to "The Laziest Girl in Town."
released December 4, 2012
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