Infidelity Makes Candy Sounds on Lisa St. Lou’s Debut, “Ain’t No Good Man”

Marvin Gayes “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, TLC’s “Creep” and Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”. The Eagles’ “Lyin ‘Eyes”, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton and of course “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams.

Infidelity is torture on the victim’s soul. But it is also a powerful catalyst for great artistic achievement, especially for musicians. It’s the brand of bad luck that inspired classic songs like the ones above. It also spawned a number of iconic albums, from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks to Beyonce’s Lemonade – works that drove these artists to creative heights they may never compete with.

Lisa St. Lou

Singer / songwriter Lisa St. Lou with her debut album “Ain’t No Good Man” is another powerful product from “Make Me Wrong”. It’s a blues-driven explosion of 13 soulful originals, melodies that go from betrayal and heartbroken to redemption and what appears to be a new love. They are expertly performed by Lisa St. Lou and an all-star crew including New Orleans greats Irma Thomas, Cyril, Ivan and Ian Neville, axman Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and many more.

Brooklynite St. Lou’s style is rooted in the gospel she received as a child in a Baptist church in her hometown of South St. Louis. Her filial love for singing led her to serious musical studies. Lisa earned a Masters in Opera (!) Before moving to New York City and a quick hit with a role in the Broadway production of The Producers. But an entertainer’s lifestyle was inconsistent with her new husband’s future vision, so she left showbiz and had two children. Her partner’s repeated infidelities over the next decade led her to the most important decision of her life – she made him try to regain her voice metaphorically and now literally.

St. Lou was fortunate enough to work with Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter Tor Hyams (Joan Osborne, Lou Rawls) on her debut. And while she sees Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Nina Simone as inspirations, I hear another soulful white girl from St. Louis showing off in her style – Bonnie Bramlett from Delaney and Bonnie.

St. Lou and Hyams wrote 12 high-profile pieces together. They’re all bluesy, but with an original twist, which is hard to do with such a good profile. The tracks were recorded at Parlor Studios in New Orleans and of course have a swampy, steamy Big Easy groove. There’s also plenty of Memphis on the horns and Stax-like guitar licks and Chicago-flavored gospel in the ubiquitous Hammond organ roll and church backing vocals.

The album starts with the title track. Here Lisa makes good use of her opera pipes and gospel grit. She sings high and hard to romantic nihilistic lyrics like:

I’m hip to the game
They are always the same
I can smell a rat from a mile away
Is not a good man
Who will love me soon
Ain’t a good man
Who can fool me twice by giving me the moon?

“Girl Get Off” warns the “other” woman to stay away from her husband, who is set for a fast groove with a lot of lyrical double play. “Love Me Baby” is a plea that begins with snapping fingers, a four-note bass riff, and a solo voice before turning into shuffling blues with a great call and response with the chorus.

Lisa St. Lou

On one of the album’s showstoppers, “Nothing is never enough (for a man)”, St. Lou is accompanied by the immortal Carla Thomas. The NOLA Soul Queen, who has her typical stanky vocals on a slow blues with some sweet guitar licks and punchy lines like:

You give your body, you give your soul
You give up every fight
I don’t want to get up in the morning
Because nothing, nothing, nothing is ever right
Nothing is enough for a man
Nothing is enough for a man
No matter how hard you’ve tried or if you’re doing the best you can
Nothing is enough for a man

The founder of the Meters, Cyril Neville, shares the chant of “Whatcha Gonna Do”. This is true New Orleans Funky with all the ingredients, wah wah guitar (or clavinet), more call and response vox and a jerky stop time beat.

While St. Lou’s go-to style is faster, my favorite songs here are the ballads. “Miracle in Motion” is a painfully slow love song, a gospel-flavored offer without a lyrical ax to grind. There are some nice rhythmic changes and modulations, lush horn and keyboard support that make this seemingly straight forward ballad something more.

My favorite on the album, Flowers In the Rain, closes the collection on the kind of hopeful note we wish for those wrong in love. The arrangement is pure gospel, initially mostly just piano and voice, like a sketch or a demo. Lisa and her throaty singers with an angelic background build the song together with a church, bluesy organ that swings and dances around the melody. This is a real classic.

You gave me hope through the storm
When it was cold you kept me warm
You took the pain away
You gave me flowers in the rain
I’ve never met a man who could look me in the eye
And see all the beauty inside
And the sound of your voice
It takes away all worries
You opened my heart
You picked me up when I fell apart
When my whole world went crazy
You gave me flowers in the rain

St. Lou’s Ain’t No Good Man is a musical journey through Kubler-Ross’ famous five phases of loss, with a lot of anger at first, which ends with acceptance. It features some wonderful songs and top flight performances from everyone involved. It’s good music medicine – a dash of gospel goodness that can help the brokenhearted cast out their rightful anger and walk down the street.

It’s also refreshing to see a debut CD from a 40-year-old come up with something to say, rather than a pre-made teen product spat out by the pop machine. In music as in life, Lisa shows that it is better late than never.

Lisa’s website has some cool video clips of the recording of the album and discussions about the development of the songs and the arrangements. Check it out here and find all the links to all platforms here.

Key tracks: What will do, nothing is never enough (for a man), flowers in the rain

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