The great American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” And it’s true: the one constant in life is the fact that nothing is constant. One of the roles we play as human beings — and for many of us, one of our biggest challenges — is to learn to accept and even thrive on life’s never-ending parade of transformations.
The year 2016 was one of large-scale and unexpected change for Tampa Bay area blues and soul vocalist Lauren Mitchell. During a tumultuous time in both her personal and professional life, she was given the opportunity to rise from the challenges she was facing and make the album of her career with producer Tony Braunagel. Mitchell took the leap of faith because she is a true student of the blues, a music that’s all about finding a way to transform difficult experiences into something cathartic. The timing was perfect. She had an album to record.
Another artist might have withered in the face of such complete and simultaneous changes in her professional and personal life. But Mitchell is a student of the blues, a music that at its core is about taking difficult experiences and finding a way to transform them into something cathartic, about finding deep truths in a sea of raw-nerve emotion. She had an album to record.
That album, “Desire”, is the most fully realized musical statement she’s made to date. Through a bold mix of her own original material, songs she hand-picked from the repertoires of her friends, and select covers of tunes first performed by Etta James, Bettye Lavette, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and Betty Davis, Mitchell tells a blues story that’s been a lifetime in the making. It’s a stylistically varied, musically rich set of 13 songs expertly recorded by drummer and Grammy-winning producer Tony Braunagel, whose work with Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Robert Cray have made him one of today’s most in-demand blues industry professionals. Recorded during a ten-day trip to Los Angeles, Braunagel brought out the best in Mitchell, highlighting every nuance in her powerful vocals and helping her craft an emotionally resonant album that’s destined to go down as one of the highlights of 2017. Besides Braunagel, the band features guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Josh Sklair. keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Reggie McBride, sax player Joe Sublett, and percussionist Lenny Castro.
Desire kicks off with a fiery reading of “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me How To Treat My Man),” an uptempo rarity from Etta James‘ 1960s Chess Records catalog that Braunagel unearthed for Mitchell. James was Mitchell’s musical idol, and she tackles another of the famed vocalist’s recordings elsewhere on the album: the sassy, swaggering “Jump Into My Fire,” which appeared on James’ 1988 release “Seven Year Itch.” From the catalog of Bettye Lavette, she uncovers a soulful 1965 single titled “Stand Up Like a Man” that finds Mitchell asking her romantic partner to exhibit the same fearlessness that she herself brings to the table — the same determination she again sings about on “I Ain’t Been (Licked Yet),” a feisty Ashford & Simpson composition first recorded by Diana Ross in 1979. “Good to Me as I Am to You,” from Aretha Franklin’s classic 1968 album Lady Soul, is here in a deeply felt interpretation. And rounding out the older material on Desire is Betty Davis’ 1973 masterpiece of funk, “Anti-Love Song,” a tune Mitchell says she selected for the forthright way it deals with physical desire. “I’m almost 6 feet tall, and I’m sexy, and I’m not afraid to talk about it,” says the Florida-based singer.