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Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012

Llysa Spencer

Red Hen

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“I tried to avoid it for a long time,” Llysa Spencer says, “but you can't really help being an artist.”

Spencer's second CD might be the result of nature as much as nurture. Her Kentucky ancestors entertained themselves and their neighbors with music; her father, Jim Spencer, was one of Milwaukee's major musical figures from the 1970s; and her sister, Heidi, has earned much respect as a recording artist. Heidi is one of several guest stars on Red Hen, along with Brian Ritchie and Dave Vartanian, who also engineered the recording's pristine, bare-branched sound. The opening track, “In the Hole,” could almost be mistaken for one of Heidi's melancholic ballads of inescapable love, down to its lonesome accompaniment of brushed drums and string bass.

Common roots and parents aside, Llysa is a formidable talent in her own right, using her self-confessed limitations as a singer and guitarist to their full power of expression. There is nothing facile about her songs or her performances. She departs a little from the folky universe on songs co-written with outside producers. “Sway” (with Behn-Vibe Machine) darts from the shadowy outback of trip-hop; “Can't Steal Thunder” (with Masud Asante) rides a gentle world music groove; and “Music All Day” (with Wally Holstad) suggests a moody demo for Kate Bush. “It becomes less and less about yourself the more people you collaborate with,” Spencer says. “I'm getting tighter with my musical craft, now that I'm not running away from it.”

A CD release party will be held Jan. 7 at Linneman's Riverwest Inn.