City Slang: Alison Lewis at the Lager House

Aug 30, 2013 at 8:49 am

I was not familiar with the band the Scotch Bonnets, a reggae-rock band from Baltimore, before tonight, but the band’s singer-guitarist Lady Hatchet (not a Juggalo, as far as we can tell) was in town this week to play the Lager House.

It’s a warm Thursday evening in Corktown, so the venue is hardly packed, but it’s far from empty either. This place is a hang-out as well as a venue, and local muso types like Anastasia Gold are chilling around the bar and stage, offering up butt-scratches to Alison Lewis’ dog Millie.

So there’s a casual, relaxed vibe in the air when Lady Hatchet takes to the stage. She does a good job too – the punk and reggae energy from her regular gig is apparent in her solo acoustic work, even if it isn’t as vivid. The good Lady manages to grab the attention of just about everyone who was there for some other reason and, hey, so what if she misses a few of the high notes. She never claimed to be a top-notch singer anyway. Lady Hatchet is all about telling stories through honest lyrics and overt melodies. She’s not a musical Kerouac, a Joni Mitchell. But she’s having fun. There’s a song about a decadent night in Hamtramck to prove it. Yes, she wrote a song about Hamtramck. Hat’s off.

Alison Lewis is a class apart. The alt-country-Americana scene is flourishing in Detroit right now thanks to Katie Grace, Doop, Pat V and the gang, and Lewis is right up there with the best of them.

Up until five years ago, Lewis was living in Chicago before returning home and settling in Corktown. She told us recently, “I was gone on and off for about ten years but I’m from Detroit. Now, I live in Corktown. My location definitely affects my music. I think that I write visually-based songs. On my last record, there’s a song that is literally about the people who lived across the street. I sat on my porch, watched and wrote. Detroit is home.”

“Visually-based songs” are exactly what Lewis writes. It’s hokey to suggest that she paints with words, especially when, in fact, she takes a good photo. Her voice is husky, a Joplin-esque sandpaper roughness-turned-purr. She swings from croon to wail effortlessly, and you get the feeling that she only realizes that there are other people in the room when she finishes a song. Her eyes are closed, and she’s doing this for herself. She’s having a blast. The fact that Millie is wandering the room, sometimes perching herself on stage, creates an image of street-performing within the venue. It works.

Many of Lewis’s songs are about heartbreak, relationships and love, but her writing is clever and poetic enough to avoid clichés and melodrama. She is a tremendous performer, a talented musician and a wonderful writer and, let’s face it, that’s the Holy Trinity.