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Lissie's alt-folk packs a bit of a fist

November 24, 2009 |  2:06 pm

Lissie The young alt-folk singer Lissie Maurus might have recorded much of her debut EP,  "Why You Runnin'," at home on GarageBand, but that doesn't make the record any less rustic.

"It's funny, instead of it being like me and my horse, it's me and my laptop," Maurus said from her home in Ojai, where she decamped after a stint in L.A. to look for a quieter life. "I lived for five years in Beachwood Canyon, but I needed a yard and a house and space to do projects. Today, I'm drying pomegranates."

While fruit-craft is a perfectly adorable way to spend a weekend, don't dare mistake Maurus for domesticated. "Runnin'," now out on Fat Possum Records, is both as ethereal as a before-dawn walk up the canyons and as tough as old leather. 

Recorded with Band of Horses cohort Bill Reynolds, the EP opens with the jangly "Little Lovin'," before taking a sharp turn for the deliciously miserable on "Wedding Bells," a ballad of rueful singledom that nonetheless has a streak of resilience in it.

"I'd always thought of it as a mopey song about feeling sorry for yourself," Maurus said. "But when we play it live, it's got a bit of a bounce. For some people, it's defiant, like 'I'm not going to go though this marriage thing again.' "

The common streak through all of the songs is Maurus' voice. Often washed out in reverb and perfectly on point, yet with a bit of a sneer, it makes "Runnin' " feel as testy as it is inviting. Maurus just wrapped up a tour opening theaters for Ray LaMontagne, with nothing but an electric guitar to keep her company (she plays the Bootleg Theatre tonight with a full band). But for all the high-lonesome sounds on "Runnin,' " she isn't shy about commanding a room or giving a vigorous dressing-down to manipulative urbanites.

"In Hollywood, there were a lot of people in my life that I didn't know if I really wanted there," Maurus said. "Before I moved I got in a fight with this girl that was a total smackdown. I'm confrontational. I'm never going to be passive-aggressive or fake in relationships."

-- August Brown

Photo courtesy Fat Possum Records