It won’t take long for Liz Brasher’s music to become synonymous with contemporary soul music. With the success of the EP Outcast and a rousing 2018 performance at SXSW, Brasher’s full-length release, Painted Image was highly anticipated. And for good reason as the album proves to be dynamic and ardent. Brasher couples luxuriant vocals with meaningful lyrics to create auspicious energy. She signifies, along with Tami Neilson, Mandy Barnett, and Courtney Marie Andrews, a new class of formidable female soul-influenced singers. Undeniably, Painted Image situates Brasher as one of the next thundering and commanding voices of soul music.
Brasher’s upbringing is central to her music and specifically to Painted Image. Raised in a religious Dominican family, they were active Baptist church singers in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brasher herself studied theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago but was soon drawn to secular music. This pursuit created familial tension resulting in excommunication. However, her exposure to religion, biblical texts, and sacred music directly informed her music. Brasher’s disconnect from strict dogmas also showed her the value in creating music that defined her as an individual.
Throughout Painted Image, she reuses religious imagery to articulate her unique perspective rather than maintaining traditional ecclesiastical connotations. “Blood of the Lamb”, a clear mention of the biblical phrasing used to express Jesus’ sacrifice and suffering, is reappropriated to demonstrate Brasher’s anguish. Likewise, in “Hand to the Plow”, Brasher sings “I know love can’t be bought / Pillar of salt in my lot.” Here Brasher refers to the Bible story where Lot’s wife becomes a pillar of salt after she looks back to Sodom. The biblical understanding of the salt pillar is associated with punishment, yet Brasher reimagines the pillar to symbolize self-determination. In the chorus, she sings “I ain’t going down the road / Where you want me to go / Laid my life down at the throne / And I ain’t going back no more.” Whereas Lot’s wife was castigated for disobedience, Brasher aligns defiance with an insurgency.
Painted Image finds Brasher effortlessly moving between genres without settling on one style for longer than a track. “Moon Baby” features a jaunty swing tickled by space-station-esque sound effects while “Body of Mine”‘s guitar and drum leads enshrines an unavoidable groove. Painted Image toys with gospel, R&B, country, all the while threading in elements of the Delta blues. Arguably, “Living Water” best encapsulates Brasher’s belief in genre fluidity. The track opens with a swanky roll of soul music as Brasher’s voice takes on a distinct country music cadence. The country vibe is reiterated in the track’s final moments as a pedal steel guitar closes. Meanwhile, the gospel sounding background vocals meets Brasher’s on the lyrics “glory, glory” thereby imbuing the track with distinct soul energy.
Brasher’s voice is Painted Image’s show-stopper. “Love Feasts”‘ subtle instrumentation makes space for her dazzling bellow. The impressively held notes add passion and zeal to the track. Yet, Brasher doesn’t repeatedly rely on simple instrumentation to highlight her vocal talent. The five-piece string section juxtaposed to her sumptuous voice casts “Cold Baby” as a galvanized torch-song. Moreover, her vocals radiate unadulterated certainty on “Heaven and Earth”. Especially when she sings “Don’t go on and cover me / I know what you are and I’ve seen where you’re going / Don’t say we’ll never be anything more than we are”, her voice exhibits vehemence.
The title track and the album, in general, find Brasher deciding her journey and identity. A painted image symbolizes her ability as an artist to determine her own trajectory. This is apparent in “Painted Image” as she uses the chorus to reject control: “No, no, I don’t wanna go with you / No, no, I don’t wanna go there with you.” Brasher defies the notion that an image is a static conveyance of singular meaning. Instead, she embraces multiplicity. Much as she refuses adherence to one genre’s conventions, Brasher’s rejection of control illustrates her own transformation. By ending the album with the title track, she leaves listeners with a concrete understanding of her agency. Together the album and artist confirm “all is black and white except that [Brasher is] a painted image”.