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LUCY BILLINGS: January 2011 Spotlight Artist

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The back story: Lucy Billings was raised in Arizona and wrote her first song at age 10. Open Air, her debut album, was released in 2006. Currently based in Northern California, Billings holds down an interesting day job. She’s a licensing lawyer, and writing contracts every day enables her “to be adept at getting words on the page and editing and then deciding if they capture what I want to convey.” She adds, “I think this discipline has enhanced my songwriting and having song melody as a scaffold for the lyrics makes the writing even more fun.”
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Her latest: No Other Road (due Jan. 18), available on Sassy Time Records.

Notable collaborators: John Jennings, best known for his work with singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, is Billings’ right-hand man on No Other Road, serving as producer, playing a variety of instruments and adding harmony vocals as well. Also appearing on Billings’ latest is pedal-steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines.

Album verdict: Jennings employs the same natural, gentle touch that he’s used on Carpenter’s albums to the 12 Billings originals on No Other Road. It turned out to be a smart move because Billings, like Carpenter, sings with warmth and restraint, and she takes a similar economical approach to songwriting. “Let’s Not and Say We Did,” the album opener, was inspired by something Billings’ mother would say to her in her formative years, and Billings uses the phrase in the chorus to deal with common childhood and adult scenarios. “Rear View Mirror” tells the story of a corporate-downsizing victim, while “Daddy’s Last Drive” is about the death of Billings’ father — and to her credit, she manages to steer clear of the melodramatic in both songs.
Billings is not a Carpenter clone, though. The presence of mandolin and fiddle throughout (along with Maines’ aforementioned pedal steel) gives Billings’ music a more classic country-music sheen, and the perfect-for-dancing “Goodbye Baby” is a great example of her knowing and appreciating the finer details of the genre.

— By Chris M. Junior