Forgotten series: Lisa Germano – Happiness (1993)

If the Capitol debut of Lisa Germano — violinist back then for John Mellencamp — found you perhaps longing for something along the lines of her old boss’s “Lonesome Jubilee,” sorry.

Not even hardly.

Only Germano’s “You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses” had any semblance of that familiar deep roots feel. Instead, she had a more wide-ranging, if just as intimate, goal: “I wanted this album to be like whispering in someone’s ear,” she said back then.

Produced by Malcolm Burn (Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop) in the way-cool French Quarter home studio that Daniel Lanois has since departed, Germano’s “Happiness” read like a romance novel if it had been penned by a great writer. It remains an album that is dimly lit, boldly direct, and yet accommodatingly enigmatic.

The atmospherics here, as with any of the Burn-Lanois-Eno collaborations, end up being another instrument in the sound palette — from the stealthy, ethereal pedal steel on “Cowboy” to the gripping guitar on “Everybody’s Victim.”

Best of all, Germano — an Indiana native, like Mellencamp — would prove to be as much girl as she was grrrl: “Happiness,” as its name implied, was both tough then tender. “The Darkest Night of All” might be as delicate as an egg shell, but then the title track nearly grinds.

All but one of the tunes here was written by Germano, divorcing her completely from the role she once inhabited as a Mellencamp band member. In fact, the fiddle was more often gingerly avoided.

In one fell swoop, it became clear that Germano had always been more than a sideman, er, woman. Even after a subsequent hiatus, she would go on to release seven full length albums and 2 EPs since 1994 — and that’s not to mention appearing on projects with David Bowie and Crowded House’s Neil Finn, among others.

“Happiness” is still my favorite. If you’ve worn this version out, move on to the re-release after Germano signed with Ivo Watts-Russell’s 4AD; bonus tracks include the memorable “Inconsiderate Bitch.”

  

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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