Lisa Sheppard

Lisa Sheppard
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Elvis. Earthquakes. Heartache. Poker. Roof cave-ins. For a roots-rock singer-songwriter, even Hollywood couldn’t conjure a more perfect storm of inspiration and raw material than the one filling Lisa Sheppard’s notebooks.

“When I think about it, I guess my life has been pretty interesting,” says the Texas-raised, Los Angeles-based artist. “I’m a person who’s easily bored, so I’m continuously looking for something new to wrap myself around. The stories in my songs tend to be about the process of life.”

Neon Lights, Lisa’s stunning sophomore album, burns with the grit-filled, heartfelt sounds of that process. The moods and tales within are as frank and richly varied as the life of their earthy-voiced creator: The disc’s 11 built-to-last songs are typified by such offerings as “You Got Your Freedom,” a rough-edged, blues-rocking kiss-off to a departing ex-lover, and “Once I Leave LA,” a sobering meditation on the thoughts of a desperate friend set to a bittersweet waltz. And then there’s the title track, an image-rich, gospel-tinged narrative that cashes in on the singer’s observations from her years as a professional poker player.

Lisa was born on Christmas Day. She grew up in Houston with music-loving parents who began bringing her to see live bands when she was just seven years old. Her mother, an impassioned follower of country and early rock ’n’ roll, was friends with Elvis Presley, George Jones, and rockabilly pioneer Tommy Sands, whose fan club she ran. Through her parents Lisa also discovered the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, and the Eagles, and at age nine she started guitar lessons. By age 16, however, her attention had turned toward a different type of stage, and she decided to pursue a theatrical career.

In 1988 Lisa moved to LA, where her focus eventually shifted from acting to playwriting and directing. But in 1993 she received a not-so-subtle sign that maybe the theatrical world wasn’t for her: During the opening run of “Metro,” a three-act play she co-wrote and directed with her late husband, the roof of the presenting theater caved in (luckily, no one was hurt). Two further collapses, that of her house in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and that of the marriage, soon had her searching for another creative outlet.

Lisa dabbled in visual art while growing further immersed in LA’s rich music scene. Inspired by the latter, in 2008 she picked up her guitar, wiped away 20 years of dust, and not only started playing again but writing songs as well. “My ex-husband had died, and I’d been carrying that loss and a lot of other stuff,” she recalls. “It all started coming out.” In October 2009 Lisa debuted with One-Track Mind, a collection of 10 striking originals that was quickly snapped up by blues and radio and drew praise from Country Weekly and Belgian online magazines and The album’s success soon had her appearing at the House of Blues and other top clubs.

Produced by Rich McCulley (Sparklejet, the Meadows), Neon Lights also features drummer DJ Bonebrake (X, the Knitters), pianist Carl Byron (Michelle Shocked, Anne McCue), bassists Todd Connelly (Phoebe Snow, Billy Squier), Greg Boaz (Dave Alvin) and Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakum). “Lisa’s music is a blend of Texas storytelling, Stonesy rock ’n’ roll, and a splash of Lucinda Williams,” says McCulley. “It’s all in there.”

It certainly is. As any lover of well-crafted, honestly played songs will eagerly agree. With Neon Lights, Lisa Sheppard reminds us once again her future is bright indeed.

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