NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two middle-aged women eyed Lillie Mae as she strolled into Rotier’s family restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, her head shaved on both sides with a shock of short, dark hair on top, nose ring and tattoos on both arms easily visible.
“Well, aren’t you just darling?” one of the observers said on her way to the cashier to pay her bill.
Singer, songwriter and fiddler Lillie Mae smiled back and demurely thanked the woman for the remark.
“That’s better than what I get a lot of times,” she quietly told a visitor as they sat down for lunch recently at one of her favorite haunts.
In the past decade, Lillie Mae has dazzled increasingly larger audiences with her elastic and colorful vocal aplomb, her technical command of the fiddle and her charismatic presence as a performer.
Those traits take center stage in her biggest career step yet: the release of “Forever and Then Some,” her new solo album.
Lillie Mae sounds very little like most of the carefully groomed nascent stars roaming the streets of Nashville, but that’s one of the things that caught the attention of indie-rock kingpin Jack White — who recruited her for the all-female band that supported him on his Lazaretto tour in 2014.
“What isn’t interesting about her?” asked Stacy Vee, director of festival talent for Goldenvoice, who oversees the talent bookings for the promoter’s Stagecoach Country Music Festival. Lillie Mae performed at that event in 2008 with her family band, Jypsi.
“Seriously, the way she’s singing, the way she presents her art, I haven’t seen it performed like that. ... It sounds way older and way newer, masculine and feminine at the same time.”
Her new album spans the melancholic Americana breakup song “Over the Hill and Through the Woods” to the sprightly country two-step “Honky Tonks and Taverns.” It also offers the country-gospel lope of “Wash Me Clean” and the folk-bluegrass sway of the title track. The album closes with the haunting mantralike minor-key lament “Dance to the Beat of My Own Drum.”
Lillie Mae’s voice hails from the Dolly Parton school of high, quavering emotionalism, adding a tinge of sadness even to her more optimistic lyrics.
The album features instrumental and vocal contributions from some relatives: brother Frank, on guitar; older sister Scarlet, on mandolin; and younger sister McKenna Grace, on vocals.
For years, they sang together as a family band that also included another older sister, Amber Dawn, now living in Canada.
Nearly a decade ago, they were making the rounds as Jypsi. Lillie Mae, 16 then, quickly rose from her supporting role to lead vocalist.
Now the big challenge is stepping up again, from frontwoman in a family band and featured support player to a bona-fide rock star.
“It’s kind of scary, in a way,” she said. “But I’m really ready to just get out there and play and play and play.”