Interviews

Lily Isaacs Talks Covering Extreme With The Isaacs, Identifying With 'The American Face' [Interview]

Frederick Breedon

The tracklist of multi-Grammy award-nominated family group The Isaacs' new album The American Face reads like a departure from the bluegrass and Southern gospel-inspired norm. Covers and outside writes typically round out Isaacs albums, but instead of adding a new spin to the songs of Dottie Rambo or Bill and Gloria Gaither, the four-piece serves up fresh takes on compositions credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney ("We Can Work It Out") and even former Van Halen lead vocalist Gary Cherone (singer and co-writer of Extreme's "More Than Words").

Yet when you hear those blood harmonies on what band member Sonya Isaacs Yeary describes as "life, love and the lack thereof songs," less likely selections suddenly sound like obvious fits for a group dedicated to spreading faith, hope and charity.

Yeary, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman and Ben Isaac's bandmate and mother, Lily Isaacs, doesn't see expanding a covers repertoire that already included Mike & The Mechanics' "The Living Years" as any sort of image revamp.

"The cover songs we picked were songs we all enjoyed, and it never compromised who were because all of these songs on this album are who we are as people," she told Wide Open Country.

For instance, the group's Beatles homage teaches us a little about Lily's pre-music ministry tastes.

"I was a big Beatles fan growing up in New York City, and I actually went to the very first Beatles concert at Shea Stadium," she said of "We Can Work It Out." "My friends and I had posters of the Beatles and every album. I was a Beatlemaniac. When we started picking cover songs, of course I had to pick a Beatles song. That song itself, 'We Can Work It Out,' is so relevant for today. A lot of the times we're living through today remind me of the '60s."

As Lily tells it, the Extreme cover fits a Biblical context as smoothly as something like "Turn! Turn! Turn!," a Byrds classic credited to Pete Seeger and inspired by the wisdom of King Solomon.

"It talks about relationships, which are definitely Godly," she explained. "We love one another, and that's a commandment of the Lord. When you love somebody, you don't have the words."

The real crowd pleaser, though, will likely be an a capella (which literally means "in church style") reimagining of Chicago's "You're the Inspiration."

"That was probably one of the hardest songs we've ever recorded a capella," Lily explained. "There's so many changes and keys and, you know, without the music, but we did it. It took the whole day to record that song, and we love performing it live."

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Unlike a lot of recent projects with multiple cover songs, The American Face isn't a product of artists trying something different while stuck at home in 2020 due to the pandemic. Instead, it was recorded and completed in 2019 and shelved until live music returned to some sense of normalcy. The title track, which also insists that we can work it out, is even older.

"The song 'The American Face' was written by my daughter Sonya, her husband Jimmy Yeary and Tom Douglas, who is a great songwriter in Nashville," Lily said. "They wrote it in 2014, which is way before the social unrest and the things we've been going through in 2021 for our country. It just seems like it was meant to be that we recorded it then so we can release it now."

Lily's incredible life is among the stories informing both "The American Face" and its music video.

"We are the American face, and that's basically what this song says," she explained. "My parents are Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors. They lived through a nightmare in World War II. I was born in Germany after the war when my parents were liberated, and they lost most all of their families: their parents and sisters and brothers. It was really a terrible time for people to be living, but somehow, my mother and father survived. We came to America when I was 2 years old via Ellis Island, and I grew up in New York City. At the age of 9, my parents and I became American citizens, and I remember that. I remember standing in a group of [200 or 300] people and taking an oath. It was very important to us to become Americans because this country gave my parents another chance at life. My father got a job and my parents learned the language. It's like we had to start all over again, and America opened its arms to my family."

The 12 song collection arrives Aug. 13 via the family's House of Isaacs label. A portion of proceeds from album sales will go to the Bridge Ministry, a non-profit organization in Nashville which alleviates the suffering of underprivileged children, the homeless and the working poor by providing life-sustaining resources and a message of hope.

The Isaacs will become official members of the Grand Ole Opry on Sept. 14.

The American Face Tracklist

1. "The American Face" (Jimmy Yeary, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Tom Douglas)
2. "We Can Work It Out" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
3. "You're The Inspiration" (Peter Cetera, David Foster)
4. "Never Too Late For Love" (Tim Nichols, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman)
5. "Turn Turn Turn" (Peter Seeger)
6. "Just Words" (Connie Harrington, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman)
7. "Humpty Dumpty Heart"(Ronnie Bowman, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman)
8. "Forever & For Always" (Robert John Lange, Shania Twain)
9. "Dance With Me" (Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Jimmy Yeary, Rebecca Isaacs Bowman)
10 . "More Than Words" (Gary F. Cherone, Nuno Bettencourt)
11. "Love With All Your Heart" (Rebecca Isaacs Bowman, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Steven Jones)
12. "The Water Is Wide" (Unknown Author)

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Lily Isaacs Talks Covering Extreme With The Isaacs, Identifying With 'The American Face' [Interview]