JPR Live Session: Lillie Mae

Sep 8, 2017

Lillie Mae has been singing and playing on stages across the country since she could stand on her own two feet. Forever and Then Some, her much anticipated Third Man Records debut, sees the Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist weaving her own extraordinary experiences with the myriad strains of Americana to create a breathtaking song cycle of romance and struggle, solitude and adventure.

Songs like “Wash Me Clean” and the plaintive first single, “Over The Hill and Through The Woods,” stand out as snapshots of intimacies, encounters, and moments that matter, reverberating with earnest emotion and restless creative energy. Produced by multiple Grammy Award-winner Jack White III at Third Man Studio in Nashville, Forever and Then Some affirms Lillie Mae as a remarkably gifted musical storyteller, a bright new star that’s been here all along.

Born in Illinois but raised on the road, Lillie Mae first started singing when she was but three years old, picking up the fiddle at the age of seven. Her dad, Forrest Carter Rische, taught all five of his children to sing and play alongside him in his Forrest Carter Family Band. The family traveled America in an old motor home, busking country, gospel, and bluegrass from the Branson Mall to RV parks in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Though they spent most of their time among other well-traveled musicians, the Risches led a cloistered life, intensely religious with boundaries against anything deemed “too worldly.” With few friends and limited access to the outside world, Lillie Mae and her siblings forged a special bond that remains to this day, a deeply ingrained familial link that fueled their own original musical approach. In 2000, the family was invited by country music legend Cowboy Jack Clement to visit Nashville for an audition. Clement saw tremendous potential in the young musicians, especially the pre-teen Lillie Mae, who he declared “a major voice” at the tender age of nine. “Cowboy was closer to me than any grandparent I ever had,” she says. “His influence on me is still strong. He always pushed me to play different instruments; he saw how I would pick up everything in the studio. He was a good friend to me and we remained close until he passed away.

By now all in their teens and beyond, Lillie Mae, brother Frank, and sisters Scarlett, Amber-Dawn, and McKenna Grace, next formed their own group, known around Nashville as simply The Risches. The band’s extraordinary live sets at the famed Lower Broadway honky tonk, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, made them into local heroes, acclaimed for their electrifying musicianship and groundbreaking bluegrass/country/pop fusion. Eventually dubbed Jypsi, Lillie Mae and her siblings signed to a major label and in 2008, released their self-titled debut album. The group scored a top 40 country hit with “I Don’t Love You Like That” but their multi-hued Americana proved to be a bit more “far out” than the country world was yet ready to handle.

What binds Forever and Then Some is Lillie Mae’s distinctive songcraft, a frank and utterly direct lyrical voice as warm and intuitive as her honeyed vocals themselves. The album’s songs – all penned by Lillie Mae, with arrangement advice and assistance on select tracks by her older sister Scarlett – span much of Lillie Mae’s adult life, exploring “the choices one makes” and what she calls “a string of similar events.