When Joni Mitchell sang, "I've looked at life from both sides now," she could have been singing about Lisa O'Kane. A mountain girl all grown up and thriving in the city, a dedicated single mom with an exploding international recording career, a world-class vocalist and a singer/songwriter of uncommon depth and integrity, O'Kane shares Mitchell's knack for squeezing every drop of emotion out of every song she writes and anything she sings. After two critically acclaimed releases, three triumphant tours of Europe and five U.K. tours, the Los Angeles-based artist launched her new CD IT DON’T HURT January 2009. The project captivated audiences at home as well as abroad, delivering songs that illuminate the many sides of a multi-dimensional artist whose time has come.
"I'm excited about this record," O'Kane says. "I've really grown as a songwriter and as an artist. This album is very personal … it reflects the many changes in my life over the past two years. I feel so blessed as I start the next chapter of my musical journey.”
O'Kane has come a long way from Fish Camp, California, the tiny town in Yosemite National Forest where she was raised. "Fish Camp, population 36!" she laughs. "With my brother and sister, there were three of us, and we were the only kids in town. There was a Chevron station, there was the Silver Tip lodge where I worked as a waitress during the summer, there was a general store, there was a post office where my mother was the postmistress … and there was a pond."
Soaking up the sounds from the "little black radio" on top of her mom's refrigerator, Lisa was soon displaying a talent unfamiliar to her family members. "There was really no one musical in my family, but I was always a musical kid," she says. "But my grandfather did play violin, so I started taking violin lessons in the fourth grade. My mother and father scraped up $150 to buy me an upright piano, which I still have.”
With no high school in town, O'Kane left home at 13 to attend high school in nearby Fresno, continuing with her music and rising to Concert Mistress of Fresno's Junior Philharmonic. At 16, Lisa’s natural vocal skills earned her a spot with the California Girls’ Choir and her first venture overseas.
"I was very serious back then," O'Kane says. "I thought of myself as a geek because I was into music and theater. I always did Barbra Streisand songs because she was my idol. She and Emmylou Harris … don't ask, because they're so different."
With every song on IT DON’T HURT, Lisa effortlessly reconciles those disparate influences and carves out her own stylistic corner of the Americana genre in the process. Roots-driven, self-penned songs like rollicking album-opener "Ain't Done Nothin'" (featuring some hot fretwork from Telecaster deity Albert Lee) and the bluesy "Pay For My Sins" sound right at home next to the full-on, soaring balladry of songs like "Give Me This Night" and "Remember This."
Every track was carefully chosen to reflect the events going on in O'Kane's life. “It took me months and hundreds of songs to finally pare down to these 11 songs, three of which are mine.” One album highlight, "Give Me This Night," was an unsolicited pitch from an unexpected source. "The songwriters are Ken Hirsch and Rosie Casey. Ken has had cuts from Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, people like that," O'Kane says
"I Googled him and I'm thinking, 'He's got cuts with all these famous people. Why is he pitching this song to me?' So I called him up, and he said, 'It's because I think you can do the job.’” While her “‘day-job” days are behind her, Lisa did spend years balancing work, kids and a home before returning to her music and rediscovering her artistry. Of course, her creative epiphany came in an unlikely place and completely by surprise.
"It was my birthday," O'Kane recalls. "I went out with several of my girlfriends for dinner and we ended up at a local Irish Pub called Ireland's 32. There was a great band playing that night - The Twilight Lords. My girlfriends were prodding me to sing, and I got up and sang 'Chain of Fools' and Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams' … and I kicked butt!"
A year later, O'Kane met producer/guitarist Edward Tree, who coaxed her into the studio for the sessions that would grow into her 2002 debut, AM I TOO BLUE. "Ed is my key guy," she says. "He is the integral part of everything I know about making an album. Through his influence and guidance, Ed has helped me become the artist I am today."
AM I TOO BLUE, which featured two O'Kane-penned songs, garnered an immediate overseas response with chart-topping singles in several countries and paved the way for the singer’s first solo European tour. "My first tour was Holland, France and Spain," she says. "I had some really great airplay, so it was the DJs who brought me over. The fans have been fabulous, and that's why I keep going back."
Lisa’s sophomore release, PEACE OF MIND, was released in 2004 and showcased the singer's growth as a songwriter. The album featured five of her compositions, and two tracks were subsequently included on a CBS-TV "Movie of the Week" and on American Movie Classics’ Clint Eastwood ‘Make My Saturday’ movie marathon. PEACE OF MIND’s positive critical reception went a long way in establishing O'Kane in the growing Americana genre.
On the domestic front, Lisa is forging ahead with vigor and doing what she does best – write, perform and record great songs. The creative team she assembled for the new album speaks volumes about O'Kane's musical sensibilities and her growing profile as an artist. Veteran keyboardist Skip Edwards (Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams, Jim Lauderdale), Yoakam/Lucinda Williams bassist Taras Prodaniuk, Emmy Award-winning composer Ernest Troost, former Linda Ronstadt sidekick/Bryndle member Kenny Edwards, and the aformentioned Lee are just a few of the characters bringing Lisa’s real-life musical tales to life. Kenny Edwards, whose "Misery and Happiness" provides another of the album's high points, will be teaming up with O'Kane on tour.
From the start, Lisa O'Kane has built her career the old-fashioned way, all by herself, one song, one gig, one radio station, one inspiration at a time. And it shows. Every song on IT DON’T HURT reflects another side of the artist, another piece of her soul.