Lisa Sanders
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Lisa Sanders

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The best kept secret in music


"The singer-songwriter's sonorous voice flows straight from the heart, coloring and shaping her melodies with such soulful grace that you can feel the emotions of her music before the lyrics even register."

For several years now, San Diego's coffeehouse crowd has been basking in the warm glow of Lisa Sanders' music. The singer-songwriter's sonorous voice flows straight from the heart, coloring and shaping her melodies with such soulful grace that you can feel the emotions of her music before the lyrics even register.

Sanders began her songwriting journey as a child in Philadelphia, inspired by Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell. She took a detour into married life and motherhood, but later rekindled her musical aspirations after moving to Los Angeles and joining a songwriter's showcase. Sanders and a writing partner tried to pay the rent writing jingles, but amid the inevitable letdowns of the business and an aborted writing project with the Jacksons, Sanders put her songwriting on ice. She sent her kids to stay with her parents for a time, and moved to the San Diego area, where took a job at a supermarket and temporarily lived out of her car as she refocused her life.

San Diego exposed Sanders to a pulsing coffeehouse scene peopled by acoustic singer-songwriters like Gregory Page, Steve Poltz, Jewel, Peggy Watson, Cindy Lee Berryhill and Elizabeth Hummel, recharging her muse and drawing her toward the stage. Her 1996 CD debut, Isn't Life Fine, earned positive reviews and featured the collaborative creative energies of Poltz (who co-wrote a few tunes on Jewel's Pieces of You), three-time Grammy-winning engineer Barry Rudolph, bassist/producer Josquin des Pres, and legendary songwriter Bernie Taupin.

Sanders' luminous follow-up, Life Takes You Flying, is a work of emotional depth and maturity. Perhaps her jingle-writing days reinforced the power of an indelible melody, as each song on the CD makes a radio-friendly appeal, rendered in Sanders' a rich, smooth alto. In the country-tinged "Head Over Heels" and "Sight Unseen", Sanders exudes the soulful ache of a swollen heart against a sweetly lilting pedal steel backdrop. "If we can see the way with our hearts/then we can never be wrong" she declares in the latter tune, invoking the power of the heart, a central theme of the album - the heart as intuitive guiding light, repository of truth, embodiment of passion, soul, healing, and love. In "This House" (co-written with Dana LeeWood), Sanders asserts the heart's recuperative strength; The "Ooh la la la"s after the refrain feel like a cool, soothing salve for the soul, and lift the song to buoyant heights. The radio-friendly "Queen of My Castle" emerges triumphantly from heartbreak with a newfound self-awareness and confidence that didn't come easy: "To know yourself is not a walk in the park/ To know your heart is not a stab in the dark/ To wake up late in your life is not a bust/Do it at all cost".

Rather than crowding her sound with production layers, Sanders keeps her melodies clear and rhythmically well-supported. Part of Sanders' emotive power is her lyrical simplicity, along with a beautiful honesty and tasteful elegance. First-rate production and a talented musical cadre blend flair and economy: Jimmy Crespo (Aerosmith, Rod Stewart) on lead guitar; John Katchur on acoustic guitar; Jon Mattox (Young Dubliners) on drums; Kevin Ryan on pedal steel, Dana LeeWood and Mary Dolan on background vocals; and Josquin des Pres on bass and at the production helm. Snappy grooves, the right electric shadings, warm acoustic tones, and sweet vocal harmonies add the right balance of ingredients to Sanders' evocative vocals.

Sanders has twice won the San Diego Music Award (1998, 1999) for Best Acoustic Artist, and was nominated again in 2000. She performed at the Lilith Fairs in San Diego and Phoenix, and has opened for B.B. King, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, the Violent Femmes, and Sting.

- Jim Kirlin

Lisa Sanders finds new vocal heights on 'Life Takes You Flying'
October 7, 1999

On Lisa Sanders' "Life Takes You Flying," it's her voice that threatens to carry you away. On this new album (her second for the San Diego-based Cargo Records), Sanders sings with such buoyant confidence, the album threatens to sprout wings and fly right out of your hands.

As it turns out, it is a minor miracle that it exists at all.

"I didn't want to do this record in the first place, because I'd had it with everything," Sanders said. "I tried so hard to avoid making it, but it ended up being the best way to come to terms with things and to make peace with my demons. Now I'm the happiest I have ever been, but it took making this record to get me to the point where I could feel this way."

The good times should have started three years ago, when Sanders' debut album, "Isn't Life Fine," was released to encouraging reviews ("If you test only one brand-new artist this week, make it Sanders," Billboard said), and the singer-songwriter got a distribution deal with MCA Records.

Instead, Sanders quit her job at Vons, lost her apartment, sold most of her belongings and learned to do without niceties like health insurance. She also spent too much of her time bedeviled by backstage squabbles and personality conflicts that undermined her faith in herself and her music.

"It was an interesting trip," Sanders said, working through a stack of breakfast dishes. "Having to be on my toes every minute really affected me. In the end, it was a good thing, because it showed me I could do things I didn't know I was capable of doing. But I also got to the point where I was angrier than I had ever been in my whole entire life.

"Writing these songs was a way of coming to terms with a lot of deep personal issues. They're not spelled out, but putting them on the record was a way to close that door and move on."

With its cozy folk-rock sound and resonant vocals, "Life Takes You Flying" is probably the friendliest musical exorcism you'll ever hear. "This House," which Sanders co-wrote with Dana LeeWood, is a rollicking plug for self-healing; the reverent "Head Over Heels" is so in love with love, it glows; and the guitar-charged "Queen of My Castle" celebrates independence and the thrill of giving it up on your own terms.

Recorded in just one month with empathetic producer Josquin des Pres and a fine band that includes local guitarist John Katchur and Young Dubliners drummer Jon Mattox, "Life Takes You Flying" also features a new singer of sorts. The name is the same, but as far as Sanders is concerned, the voice couldn't be more different.

"I'm learning how to sing, finally," said Sanders, who began studying voice with UCSD's Linda Vickerman more than a year ago. "I used to hate performing. I thought it was excruciatingly painful to perform in front of people. I never thought I was good, and that is the honest-to-God truth. I had no idea about my capabilities. But with knowledge comes confidence. Now, I tell Linda that after five years of studying, I might be where I want to be."

When she opened the San Diego Lilith Fair concert in July, Sanders looked and sounded like a woman who had already arrived. Surrounded by hordes of supportive (and extremely vocal) fans, as well as a growing crowd of newcomers, Sanders and LeeWood performed their short set with breezy poise and frisky enthusiasm. Later that evening, Sanders joined Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan and an all-star cast for the grand-finale rendition of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart."

"Doing Lilith Fair was the best experience of my whole entire life," said Sanders, who was chosen by McLachlan's management to play in Phoenix as well. "It was like running around in your Cinderella dress for two days. I remember thinking, 'If this is as good as it gets, I'll take it.' I spent some time with Sarah, and Sheryl Crow said 'Hi' to me three times. I was out of my head the whole time, and my audience was just gone. I've never seen them so crazy. When I got home, I went in the bathroom and cried for an hour, because it was so overwhelming."

Three months later, Sanders still sounds shocked. Shocked that she got the Lilith call. Shocked that people liked her. Shocked that she actually made a second album and shocked that it actually sounds pretty good. If she could just figure out what to do now.

"Sometimes I wonder why I do this," Sanders said with a go-figure laugh. "I think I'm probably crazy. I want to get to my goal, but I have no idea what that goal is. Now, I'm content with the fact that this is what I'm supposed to do, no matter how it kills me."

Lisa Sanders' CD-release parties will be held Oct. 28 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach and Oct. 29 at Java Joe's in Ocean Beach.
- Karla Peterson

"[Sanders] boasts a charming poetic flair and smoky soulful voice that you will want to listen to for hours...If you test only one brand new artist this week, make it Sanders." - Singles Reviews

Best Pop Concerts of 1999:
Dixie Chicks, Cibbo Mato, Beth Orton, Sheryl Crow, Lisa Sanders Lilith Fair, Coors Amphitheatre, July 16 - - George Varga

Sanders has a rich, queenly voice that's pristine enough to turn heads and save souls. The cheery, jangly acoustic guitar riffs and steely bass-lines might not stop you dead in your tracks, but they certainly won't put you to sleep either. Fast forward to track three for a sample of what Sanders does best--fast, energetic folk-rock with just the lightest twinge of adult contemporary angst.
- Annie Lin

"Don't judge a book by its cover." "Looks are deceiving." These and many other common adages are probably not enough to prepare the world for Lisa Sanders and her debut release, Isn't Life Fine. This young African American woman is by far one of the freshest voices to emerge on the music scene in a while. Her impact will be no less startling and refreshing than those early days of Tracy Chapman and her "Fast Car."

Problem is, no one wants to categorize this woman where she really belongs: the overwhelmingly homogeneous world of country music. The few reviews she's received want so desperately to apply the folk label to her twanging music that reviewers have gone out of their way to find comparisons with Joni Mitchell and other folk favorites.

Nothing against folk music, but give me some barrier-shattering truth that will cross over a convenient lie any day. Sanders admits she listened to John Denver for chrissakes!

Fact is, Lisa Sanders has not only the voice, but the requisite country and western lyrical structure to be a big hit! A former discouraged songwriter who left the field for the even more discouraging realm of retail sales in the grocery business, Lisa Sanders was eventually encouraged by Eric Goodis (Cargo Music president) to give music another try.

And thank heaven for that encouragement. There's enough trill, warbling and longing in Sander's voice to make anyone drink lots of beer and whiskey, cry and hug their enemies. "Truly Divine" may remind some listeners of K.T. Oslin's early releases; those sweet, echo-y vocals always seem to remind me of fireplaces and soft rocking chairs. Sanders' versatile vocals are matched with excellent album production and musical accompaniment.

If Whitney Houston can take an excellent country song and bring it to a broader audience (Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You"), I can't see why Lisa Sanders can't provide original music to a genre that needs to broaden

its mind. While I wish life was as fine as Sanders finds it, the reality is that Nashville will have to go blind to hear the clarity and star appeal in this voice. Anybody got a hot poker?
- Barbara Beebe


Isn't Life Fine
© 1997 Cargo Music Inc.

Life Takes You Flying
© 1999 Cargo Music Inc.

Lisa Sanders Live
© 2002 Lisa Sanders

Hold On Tightly
© 2003 Lisa Sanders


Feeling a bit camera shy


Lisa Sanders is a songwriter, a singer, a woman with a life history filled with joys, sorrows, and the ability to share those experiences through her heart within a song.

Lisa Sanders, two-time San Diego Music Awards winner, born in Philadelphia, Lisa began singing as a youngster and wrote her first song at the tender age of nine. She sang everywhere she could, in school, with friends, and for her family. With a diverse interest in music, she admits to listening and enjoying a wide variety of performers.

The names of those performers and songwriters include a diversity that many could only imagine. The Motown collection kept by her mother was just the start. Her interest expanded to include Neil Young, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Fleetwood Mac...and Lisa even admits, in a weak moment, that their family sang John Denver songs!

At the age of nineteen, Lisa saw Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, it was then that she decided to become a songwriter. However, life took a turn onto the path of having a baby, and then another. She did write songs and eventually moved to Los Angeles where she was able to turn some of her work into marginal success.

Jingles and opportunities passed her way, some branching out while others fizzled. With the disappointment rising from the obstacles she encountered, Lisa returned to San Diego and was forced, due to circumstances, to have her girls live with her parents; Lisa found herself living in her car.

Things eventually got better and her family was reunited when she was able to move into her own place. However, the music world was too hard and she didn't want to try any more. Life went on with a job that provided an income, but without any life fulfilling joy or sense of real purpose. It was here in San Diego where her spark for singing and songwriting was reignited by her pals on the music scene. She began to write and perform again.

Suddenly, she was being pursued by recording people. They relentlessly followed her from show to show. Finally, encouraged by her other musician friends, in 1997 Lisa agreed to record an album. "Isn't Life Fine" is that album. Lisa teamed up with Steve Poltz, three-time Grammy winner Barry Rudolph, Josquin des Pres and Bernie Taupin for the MCA release of "Isn't Life Fine".

Lisa Sanders has been forecasted to hit the music world with the impact of Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. Locally, we have known that for a long time. Listen to this soul impacting work and then come out to see Lisa with her audiences. Lisa has opened for such music legends as B.B. King, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan,James Taylor, Sophie B. Hawkins, Stevie Nicks and Sting. You'll find her in San Diego and in venues all around the country playing the guitar and singing from the soul.