If you haven’t heard Liz Brasher yet, it’s a good bet you will soon.
Since the release of her six-song “Outcast” EP (Fat Possum) in April, the 27-year-old singer, songwriter and guitar player has been touring nonstop — playing concert venues and music festivals all across the U.S. and in Europe. She’ll make a stop at City Winery in Atlanta on Sunday.
Brasher (pronounced BRAY-zher) grew up in rural North Carolina, was raised in a multiethnic musical family, and like so many rock and soul artists, started singing in church.
Later, between moves to Chicago, Atlanta and Memphis, she immersed herself in myriad styles, drawing from the touchstones of gospel, blues and country, and the sounds of ’60s soul and girl groups, and garage and surf bands.
In Memphis, Brasher signed a deal with Fat Possum, the Mississippi label known for its diverse roster of artists, including R.L. Burnside, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Black Keys and Iggy and the Stooges.
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Brasher’s full-length debut, “Painted Image” (Fat Possum), is set to be released in 2019. Produced with Scott Bomar of the Bo-Keys and Bruce Watson of Fat Possum, it’s a much bigger, more wide-ranging collection, framing her passionate vocals and often moody lyrics with piano, organ, strings and horns.
Critics have compared Brasher to Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Amy Winehouse and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
But Bob Dylan is her songwriting inspiration. And Pops Staples and the Staple Singers, along with gospel greats Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year) are among Brasher’s biggest influences.
In early May, at a small club in Nashville, I saw Brasher light up the stage backed only by her drummer and bass player.
Cradling her beloved white ‘62 Gibson Les Paul Custom (a reissue of the vintage guitar Tharpe often played in the ’60s), she worked through the songs on “Outcast,” juxtaposing her dramatic contralto among a striking miscellany of shifting riffs and tones.
A few days later, she filled the normally sleepy early slot at the Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta, and still managed to draw a sizable and enthusiastic crowd.
After Brasher’s Shaky Knees performance, we met up at Manuel’s Tavern, where she talked about her musical journey from North Carolina to Memphis.
“My mom is one of nine siblings from the Dominican Republic, and I’m first-generation U.S., born and raised in Matthews, North Carolina,” Brasher said, revealing the tinges of a soft Southern accent.
“I grew up singing in the church with her and all her siblings and my grandma. It was a Southern Baptist church, but it was all in Spanish, so it was much different than you might think.”
Asked about her guitar playing, surprisingly, Brasher said she’d only been at it for a few years.
“I grew up singing, but I hated the piano lessons my mom forced me to take as a child, and I played the clarinet in school,” she said. “I picked up the guitar as I was beginning to write songs, because I knew I wanted to be able to lead my band, and I needed an instrument to be able to do that.
“I heard Pops Staples doing what he did, and thought, it’s pretty simple, but it sounds really good. Maybe I could try to do that?”
As for for her time in Atlanta, it was fairly uneventful, Brasher said, but Memphis was calling.
“I was trying to play as often as I could, both outside of Atlanta and at places here like the Earl,” she said. “I was doing the same stuff I’m doing now. Atlanta’s just a different town, I guess. I like Atlanta. It’s where I formed the trio.
“But Memphis clicked even before the move, because I went to Memphis to record my album. During that time, I just fell in love with the city. And Bruce Watson came to the studio, heard what we were tracking, and offered me a deal with Fat Possum. So Memphis is the place where everything happened for me.”
As it turned out, the “Outcast” EP was recorded after the “Painted Image” album, but released first because its stripped-down sound was closer to what audiences would hear when the trio went on tour.
“We thought the songs were really good, and it was actually a good idea to have something that’s rawer and has more of the feel of the live show right now,” Brasher said. “We want to build to the album.”
So, what’s it like for Brasher, as a young woman, out on tour, playing guitar and fronting a band?
“Honestly, I’m just starting out. But for me, I haven’t dealt with too many things, or any sexism, really, except for mansplaining when it comes to technical guitar stuff,” she said and laughed. “Overall, my goal is just to win everybody over when I arrive somewhere, and when I play.”
Liz Brasher with Red Wanting Blue
8 p.m. June 17. $18-$25. City Winery, 650 North Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-946-3791, citywinery.com/atlanta.
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