Infidelity Makes Sweet Sounds on debut from Lisa St. Lou, “Ain’t No Good Man”

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

Infidelity is torture on the soul of the victim. But it is also a potent catalyst for great artistic output, especially for musicians. It’s the brand of misfortune that inspired classic songs like the above.  It also birthed a bevy of legendary albums, from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks to Beyonce’s Lemonade – works which pushed these artists to creative apexes they may never match.

Lisa St. Lou

Singer/songwriter Lisa St. Lou with debut album, Ain’t No Good Man, is another powerful product of a ‘done me wrong.’  It’s a blues-powered blast of 13 soulful originals, tunes that travel the road from betrayal and broken heart to redemption and, seemingly, 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, axe man Walter “Wolfman” Washington and many more.  

Brooklynite St. Lou’s style is anchored in the gospel she absorbed as a child at a Baptist church in her native south St. Louis. Her childhood love of singing led her to serious musical study. Lisa earned a Masters in Opera (!) before heading to New York City and rapid success with a role in the Broadway production of The Producers. But an entertainer’s lifestyle didn’t jibe with her new husband’s vision of their future, so she quit showbiz and had two kids. Her partner’s repeated infidelities over the following decade led her to the most important decision of her life – leaving him in an effort to reclaim her voice, metaphorically and now literally.

St. Lou has had the good fortune of partnering with Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter Tor Hyams (Joan Osborne, Lou Rawls) for her debut. And while she sites Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Nina Simone as inspirations, I hear another soulful St. Louis white girl wailer evident in her style – Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie fame.

St. Lou and Hyams have co-written 12 top-flight tunes. They are all in a bluesy vein but with an original bend, not a very easy thing to do with such a well tread genre.  Recorded at Parlor Studios in New Orleans, the tunes all naturally have a swampy, steamy, Big Easy groove. There’s also plenty of Memphis in the horns and Stax-like guitar licks and Chicago-flavored gospel in the ever-present Hammond organ swirl and churchy background vocals.

The album kicks off with the title track. Here Lisa puts her operatic pipes and gospel grit to good use.  She sings high and hard to romantically nihilistic lyrics like:

I’m hip to the game
They’re always the same
I can smell a rat from a mile away
Ain’t no good man
Who gon’ be lovin’ me, anytime soon
Ain’t no good man,
Who can fool me twice, by giving me the moon

“Girl Get On” warns the “other” woman to stay away from her man, set to an up tempo groove with plenty of lyrical double entendre. “Love Me Baby” is a plea that starts with fingers snaps, a four note bass riff and solo voice,  before breaking into a shuffling blues with some 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 joined by the immortal Irma Thomas. The NOLA soul queen who throws down her signature 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 on every fight
Don’t wanna get out of bed in the morning
Cause nothing, nothing, nothing is ever right
Nothing is ever enough, for a man
Nothing is ever enough, for a man
Don’t matter how hard you tried or if you’re doing the best that you can
Nothing is ever enough, for a man

The Meters’ founder Cyril Neville shares the vocals on “Whatcha Gonna Do.” This is true New Orleans funky with all the trimmings, wah wah guitar (or clavinet), more call-and-response vox and a jerky stop-time beat.

While St. Lou’s go-to style is up tempo, my favorite tunes here are the ballads.  “Miracle in Motion” is an achingly slow love song, a gospel-flavored offering with no lyrical axe to grind.  There’s some nice rhythmic changes and modulations, luscious horn and keyboard support, which 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 all wronged in love.  The arrangement is pure gospel, largely just piano and voice at first, like a sketch or a demo. Lisa and her throaty angelic background singers build the song, along with a churchy, bluesy organ that surges and dances around the melody.  This is a real could-be classic.

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

St. Lou’s Ain’t No Good Man is a musical journey through Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of loss, with plenty of anger at first, ending with acceptance.  It boasts some wonderful songs and topflight performances from all involved.  It’s good musical medicine – a shot of gospel goodness that can help the brokenhearted exorcise their rightful anger and move on down the road.

It’s also refreshing to see a debut disc come our way from a 40-something with something to say, rather than a pre-fab teen product spit out by the pop machine.  In music, as in life, Lisa shows that it’s better late than never.

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

Key Tracks: Whatcha Gonna Do, Nothing Is Never Enough (For A Man), Flowers In the Rain

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