Lisa Mills has been a very busy woman. On a recent day, Mills woke up at 5:30 a.m. and began preparing for the re-release of her 2005 album “I’m Changing” by signing, stamping and packaging 100 copies of the disc prior to its Oct. 21 official release date.
It’s a task she’ll repeat as preparations include sending 255 copies to her publicist Mark Pucci, 230 copies to her distribution label Burnside Distribution, 25 copies to her “U.K. guy” and 15 copies to her manager. She has not even begun to send out copies for radio publicity. In fact, she has been sending out so many copies that she actually had to order more for her upcoming performances that will showcase how Mills and new producer Trina Shoemaker re-worked the original tracks from “I’m Changing.”
Meanwhile, a friend was sifting through receipts scattered across a massage table in order for Mills to meet a tax extension deadline. While many would be feeling the stress of such events, Mills could not be more pleased. During her career, mail outs have been routine for the soulful songstress.
“My feeling today is a feeling of completeness and a feeling of relief that I’m finally able to send these CDs out to everybody,” Mills said. “It’s a sweet, sweet feeling.”
Second chances are scarce in life. When one sees the opportunity to go back and face a life event with an experienced mind, it’s a beautiful thing, and Mills knows it. Throughout her career, Mills has been haunted by the original recording of “I’m Changing.”
Two years ago, Mills was in New York City visiting with her friend Li, who is a former employee of Atlantic Records. Li was helping her decide what the next best career move would be. Mills told her that she was debating between doing a gospel album or a release featuring all new songs, but the conversation shifted to her desire to revisit “I’m Changing.” Her focus on the previously released album was so strong that Li insisted that she find closure with “I’m Changing” before moving forward. It turned out to be good advice. When the album received its first positive review, Mills felt great satisfaction in the finished product.
“It’s going to sound pretty corny, but it feels like a full circle of completion,” she explained. “It feels like what it must be like to reclaim your birthright. I know that sounds pretty strong, but these are my babies. They’re my songs, most of them. There are 10 originals and this album has been out of print for years. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Bassist Ian Jennings (Jeff Beck, Van Morrison) assisted Mills in producing this album and laid down the bass tracks. For 11 years, Jennings and Mills have spent their summers traversing the U.K. like two “desperados” and performing at venues along the way. When they originally laid down the tracks for “I’m Changing,” Mills will be the first to tell you they were like “a couple of kids” in the studio. However, she could not think of anyone better to help make the decisions in the creative process.
“We’ve had some adventures, believe me,” Mills said. “We’re really close friends. It’s like having a relative in the room with you. So, to have him back over here again was great for both of us.”
In addition to Jennings, Mills was joined at Mobile’s Back Door Studios (where the album was originally recorded) by a group of “top-notch” musicians. She sees the versatility in each person’s background as one of the great benefits of this album.
Corky Hughes (Bo Diddley, Willie Sugarcapps) added his eclectic, cutting-edge guide style to the mix.
Drummer T.K. Lively and guitarist Rick Hirsch (both of Wet Willie fame) brought their Southern rock/blues influence. Mills cites Britt Meacham’s solo on the track “I Need a Little Sunshine” as a throwback to the days of Motown and Stax Records. Drummers John Milham and Jimmy Roebuck lent their percussive skills to “I’m Changing.” Even Pat Murphy (Delta Reign) stopped by to add a little fiddle and banjo to the album. In addition to the stellar line up, Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker added her touch by mixing down the album’s tracks.
“I’ve known for a long time what kind of magic Trina’s been doing,” Mills said. “She has transformed these tracks into the best that they could be. She’s a master at what she does.”
As far as the final product, “I’m Changing” is an audio seduction from the first track. While the industry continues to herald the neo-soul movement, the album is a reminder that Mills was doing it long before Alabama Shakes or St. Paul & the Broken Bones.
The listener is eased into the album with “Better Than This/I Don’t Need You Anymore.” A soulful essence escapes with the first run across the strings, and then Mills’ provides a warm vocal embrace that is riddled with volley after volley of poetry. “I’m Changing” also has its share of grooves. “I Need a Little Sunshine” is a throwback to the days when Sam Cooke and Otis Redding ruled the airwaves. Mills’ take on the Hendrix classic “Little Wing” could be considered one of the more impressive tracks on the album. It is rare that a musician can tackle Hendrix successfully. Mills takes “Little Wing” into a different world with an acoustic foundation and velveteen lyrical delivery that should have no problem moving the soul of the staunchest Hendrix fan.
While most of these tracks were included on the original recording of “I’m Changing,” Mills also includes new tracks such as “Rain in the Summertime,” “I Don’t Want to be Happy” and “Eyes So Blue.”
As far as the release party goes, Mills will be joined by some well-known local musicians such as Melody Duncan (fiddle), John Milham (drums), Lee Yankie (guitar) and Derek Jones (bass). The ticket price includes free food and all profits will be donated to St. Mary’s Home for Children. After the release party, Mills will continue to promote the album through performances and radio spots. She will also be travelling overseas to promote the album in Europe. When she is finished with this tour, Mills will shift focus to both a gospel album and a new release of original material.
Lisa Mills CD Release Party
Date: Friday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m.
Venue: Gulf City Lodge, 601 State St., 432-8979
Tickets: $20 at the door