Lisa Said could be called a country musician, but which country? The local singersongwriter really did grow up in Tennessee, the state she invokes in “Hard to Brake,” which opens her brand-new debut album, “No Turn Left Behind.”
Yet the performer, whose name is pronounced “sa-yeed,” is of Egyptian descent. In her otherwise Nashville-ready tunes, that heritage is expressed mostly by drummer Andrew Toy’s panArabic intros and Al Sevilla’s sometimes Eastern-tinged mandolin fills. Those accents were heard when Said played at Iota on Sunday night, but her dynamic set traveled beyond both Egypt and Americana.
Although her album features a full band, Said was accompanied at Iota by just those two musicians. Toy drove the music as Sevilla embellished it, and such pithy numbers as “Been Around” sounded close to their recorded versions, even without bass, violin, piano and multiple guitars. But the 45-minute show was dominated by such sprawling numbers as “Somebody Someday” and “One Too Many,” which stressed churning guitar and free-flowing lyrics over tidy hooks and catchy refrains.
These songs’ vibe, more Patti Smith than Patsy Cline, indicated that Said’s influences are broader than her album reveals. On her website, the performer offers a back-porch version of David Bowie’s once-futuristic “Heroes.” At Iota, she made Bob Dylan’s “Isis” sound like one of her own longer, more conversational compositions. The song contains some references to ancient Egypt but, more significantly, has generally been interpreted as the chronicle of an unraveling marriage. That dovetails with “No Turn Left Behind,” a post-divorce album that treats romantic disappointment both intimately and playfully: “I think it’s best/ You stop mentioning your ex/ Or else you might become mine,” begins “In Retrospect.”
Such pungent lines are as engaging as Said’s punchy melodies, although at least one of her album’s jokes is apparently inadvertent. (“Hard to Brake” includes a reference to “afternoon delights,” but it’s a pure coincidence that former Starland Vocal Band member Jon Carroll plays piano on the track, according to Said’s co-producer Don Zientara — a Dischord Records veteran on hand to perform a solo set Sunday.)
Said’s style could become more distinctive if its non-Western flourishes were more fully integrated, or she might continue to rely on the accessible tunes and automotive metaphors of her most mainstream material. But the most exhilarating moments of the Iota show entered uncharted territory, which suggests that Said’s music could smoothly negotiate any number of turns.