Songwriter Profile: Lucy Isabel

Lucy Isabel
Sign Posts of the Soul with Rambling Stranger

Bolstered by a whirling Hammond organ and a lacerating slide guitar, Lucy Isabel arrives with “How It Goes,” the lead single from her full-length debut Rambling Stranger. Now based in Nashville, Isabel hails from Little Silver, NJ. The sound of the Hammond is a connection to this foundation.

“I never said, ‘I want it to sound like Jersey,’” she notes. “But my producer, Jared Anderson, happens to have a really good ear for instrumentation. I didn’t know the Jersey in me would come out that strong.”

This prelude serves as an intriguing introduction to a compelling artist who curtained her acting dreams to write and perform music. “Everything I’ve done in my life thus far I’ve done with gusto,” says Isabel. “I’d been writing music for a year and playing guitar for a year and a half. I wasn’t good. I moved to Nashville and declared, ‘I’m a songwriter now.’”

While actors mold themselves into other characters, singer-songwriters play themselves. “I sang with an a cappella group when I was a senior in college,” Isabel says. “That was my first time singing outside of a theatrical context and it made the transition easier. I played my first open mic in Nashville three days after I moved here. I was terrified, but once I got used to it it’s pretty similar—making a connection with an audience.”

Touring the country and performing live for two years added experience and perspective, journeys that she recalls in the song “California Coming Down.” She says that her travels offered an invaluable education. “Prior to that, I would do as many mini-tours as I could while working a million part-time jobs in Nashville. It’s a matter of committing: I try to get in, learn as much as I can, make decisions and just go for it.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Isabel’s first exposure to music was singing in community theaters and Catholic Church children’s masses. “It was a way for me to feel connected to the world and the people around me.” And although she shares a name with Santa Lucia, the patron saint of the blind, it was another famous Lucy—plus bi-cultural bloodlines—that inspired her parents’ choice. “My mom is 100 percent Irish American and my father is 100 percent Puerto Rican. I was named after Lucille Ball,” she reveals.

Rambling Stranger was tracked in Nashville with a stellar band, highlighted by the brilliant John Prentice on guitar. “We did it all in the studio in a couple of live takes,” notes Isabel. “Jared likes to keep the session players on their toes so he didn’t send them the music ahead of time. We would listen through the work tape, fumble through a take and then record.” Isabel, whose purity of voice is often reminiscent of the revered folk chanteuses of the ‘60s, cut her vocals in those moments. “I sang live,” she affirms. “That’s my theater background.”

“False Prophet,” a standout track from Rambling Stranger, draws lyrics from a personal narrative. “It was a friendship I had,” Isabel says. “Not a healthy one. She was having a hard time and I was trying to help her, but I was doing more damage than good. I realized that I’m not all I’m making myself out to be. I’m not that savior who can solve all of her problems.” A line from the song, “I am bold but I am broken,” echoes a paradoxical contrast. “It’s about my relationships with other people and trying to fix my own shortcomings. To look in the mirror and say, ‘You mean well, but you’re not doing it.’”

“Don’t Ask Me Why” from the new collection has a line that proclaims, “Some folks are born to play/And others born to see the show.” Says Isabel: “I think that’s true. There are people who get great joy out of having a hobby, playing the guitar and writing a song or two. You have to be a certain type of masochist to want to get up on stage every night of the week and sing your heart out to everybody.”

Contact Krista Mettler, [email protected]