Lonesome River Band,
Chronology, Volume Two
(Rural Rhythm, 2012)

Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys,
Release Your Shrouds
(Earthwork, 2012)

In Chronology, Volume Two the Lonesome River Band continues its celebration of its 30th anniversary -- with the third and final volume scheduled later in the year -- with another eight-cut retrospective. (I reviewed the first of them in this space on 12 May 2012.) Seven of the songs are fresh versions of earlier ones first recorded on CDs issued between 1994 and 2000. Only the opener, the wry "Barely Beat the Daylight In," by LRB's guitarist Brandon Rickman, is new to its repertoire.

Among the most popular bands on the current bluegrass circuit, LRB brings both innovation and tradition to the project, though the innovations -- driving rhythm guitar, percussive mandolin -- have since been thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream. Still, what remains is first-rate music, superb song choice, appealing harmonies and all the virtues first-class bluegrass pickers bring to the project.

The songs and tunes are in a deep-bluegrass vein, none more so than LRB's version of Ralph Stanley's "Dog Gone Shame," a reworking of materials from the traditional "Reuben's Train/900 Miles" song complex. Tommy Morse's "Perfume, Powder & Lead" could easily pass as an old-time murder ballad in modern garb -- a splendidly spooky song nicely conceived and powerfully executed.

At the other end, the Michigan-based Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys (whose very name subverts bluegrass' characteristic rural earnestness) are on the genre's current edge, which in their case means that not everything on Release Your Shrouds is containable within that stylistic designation. Lindsay Rilko's playful "Tied Down to You," for example, owes nothing to Bill Monroe and everything to 1920s novelty pop. Nor will her singing bring Rose Maddox, Molly O'Day, Cousin Emmy or even Rhonda Vincent to mind. Not that there's anything wrong with that. She is a striking vocalist, able to sing just about anything apparently, and full of good humor and, when the occasion calls for it, political conscience.

Only a few of the cuts, most notably "My Side of the Mountain" (with social commentary one won't hear in Jimmy Martin's "The Sunny Side of the Mountain"), are broadly reminiscent of traditional 'grass. But the playing is accomplished, jazz-inflected and adventurous while retaining sufficient discipline to keep the self-indulgence at bay nearly all of the time. The lyrics of the songs, all written within the band, range far afield from what one expects to hear even in nominal bluegrass.

That's all right, of course. But on the negative side of the ledger, I have a fear -- one that I'm sure will occur to other listeners -- that on stage Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys may transform themselves into one of those dreaded "jam bands." Not so much in these grooves, however. Here there's sophistication and fun in disciplined amounts. Perhaps it's not for the hard-core audience raised on the Stanleys, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and their progeny. Even so, those whose tastes run to purer sounds (I, for example) will find themselves hard-pressed to resist Lindsay Lou's ecstatically eclectic and elastic voice.

music review by
Jerome Clark

27 October 2012

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