Lizzie & the Makers Bring Their Incandescent Psychedelic Blues and Soul Back to the West Village

by delarue

Lizzie & the Makers are one of one of New York’s most distinctive, exhilarating bands. They jam, but they keep their solos short and spot-on, usually two or maybe three bars at the most. Their inspirations are classic Chicago blues and southern soul, but they also have a psychedelic side: they’re closer to Robert Cray – with a charismatic woman out in front of the band – or Led Zep than, say, Amy Winehouse. Intense frontwoman Lizzie Edwards might not only be the best blue-eyed soul singer in New York: she might be the best blue-eyed soul singer anywhere. She and her dynamic band make a return trip to the West Village on June 23 at 10:30 PM at the Bitter End. Cover is $10.

Their last gig there was a firestorm of smart, incisive playing and fearless, impassioned songs. They wasted no time in taking the energy to redline with the hard blues of Fight Song: Edwards’ smoldering chorus mantra was “I’m ready,” bolstered by the harmonies of Erica Smith and Sarah Wise, guitarist Greg McMullen adding a searing, shivery solo over John Deley’s similarly simmering organ.

Edwards led the band into the explosively slinky 3.5 with her signature, meticulously turbocharged alto vocals, part satin, part siren; it’s hard to think of any other singer with such a ferociously potent low register who can sound so pillowy and warmly enveloping as she goes up the scale. McMullen traded a couple of tantalizing bars with Stratocaster player James Winwood over the nonchalantly swaying groove of bassist Brett Bass and drummer Phil Cimino.

The three women built a whole darkly ecstatic gospel church worth of harmony in Free,. a defiantly swaying, altered boogie, Winwood’s wry sense of humor front and center as he put the bite on his bluesmetal licks. Deley’s organ and McMullen’s classic Muscle Shoals riffs fueled It’s Not Me, It’s You as Edwards channeled blue-flame cynicism: the way Deley voiced what would otherwise have been a blues harp solo was cool, and surreal to the extreme.

The band hit a jackhammer shuffle groove with Hopeless, Edwards and her choir reaching peaks that bands like Heart only dream of, the vengeance in Edwards’ “can you turn me away?” arguably the high point of the set. She brought a high-voltage psychedelic edge to Bonnie Raitt’s Real Man and then brought the lights down for the swaying, explosively crescendoing Lonely Soul and its searing blend of roadhouse rock and restless early 70s Zep.

The group channelled a surreally echoing angst, Abbey Road Beatles slipping unexpectedly into soul with Sleep It Off, then hit a defiant peak with Blue Moon as McMullen hit his wah pedal and screamed behind Edwards’ wounded wail. They wound up the set with the furious, fearless shuffle The Bear, a launching pad for Winwood’s most concise, purist playing.

Edwards, being one of New York’s most in-demand singers, gets around a lot. Besides this band, she leads a similarly adrenalizing gospel group, Lizzie & the Sinners, where she also sings alongside Smith and Wise. She was one of the highlights of the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde fest at Hifi Bar earlier this month, where she raised the roof with a scorching take of Pledging My Time. And she was front and center on several numbers at this past week’s Squeeze cover night there, where C.P. Roth, Tom Shad and Dave Foster’s all-star band played the British new wave band’s classic Argybargy and East Side Story albums pretty much note-for-note, all the way through, no small achievement.