Liz Brasher has a gospel soul and a rock and roll heart, along with a voice that can light up a torch song or muster all the pain and fury of the blues.
After years of paying her dues, she has earned a lot of attention this year with a breakout show at South by Southwest, the release of her first EP, and praise from NPR, Rolling Stone and other publications. Her current tour with the roots rock band Red Wanting Blue stops by the new City Winery in Ivy City on June 19.
Brasher grew up in a small town in North Carolina, a first-generation American whose mother came from the Dominican Republic (her uncle is the former major league baseball pitcher Elias Sosa.) She sang in the church choir – in Spanish. She speaks with a slight Southern accent, but the South she knows is the South of today, from her immigrant community to the rock clubs of Atlanta and her current hometown of Memphis.
She wasn’t exposed to secular music at home, so when she moved away to Chicago and later to Atlanta, she began to seek out the roots of Southern music. “I started delving into Delta blues and a lot of black gospel music, and I picked up a guitar at the same time.” She latched onto Sister Rosetta Tharpe as a woman guitar-playing role model, and formed a trio that showcases her voice and her instinctively powerful guitar playing.
When Brasher move to Memphis last fall, doors started to open for her. She landed a record deal with Fat Possum records, which released her EP, Outcast, in April. Most of the cuts were recorded in a two-day spurt that reflects her trio’s raw live sound.
She continues to build momentum ahead of a short West Coast tour with The Zombies this fall, and her full LP release in January. But Brasher still finds time to continue her musical homework: she has visited the studios of Motown records and the childhood home of Mahalia Jackson, among other stops.
“I heard Bob Dylan say that an artist never should think they are at a state where they have arrived,” she said. “There’s so much music history that we can discover now, I think it’s important to go to formative places.”
And she’s still creating her own interpretation of Southern music, including writing some new songs in Spanish. “I wasn’t raised with traditional Domincan music,” she said. “Right now, I think the way that culture comes through in my music is rhythmically.”