“Headlight” radiates 12 vivid signs of the incredible drive behind Della Mae. Enthralling by way of their exquisite, arresting voices and fleet-fingered string movements, these ladies also very clearly stand for women with zero tolerance zeal.
Della Mae comprises Celia Woodsmith on guitars, Kimber Ludiker on fiddles and guitars, and Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolins. They’re joined by several auxiliary players and guest singers on what is absolutely their breakthrough album. Hot on the heels of last year’s excellent “Butcher Shoppe” EP, Della Mae upended the bluegrass groundwork they built themselves upon, and shook it all around.
What fell perfectly into place is a unique and engaging palette of colors and song structures at once delicate and gritty and time-honored and daring. Woodsmith’s “Headlight” sets it in play just that way. Inspired by her rage at the injustice she felt watching the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings, she turns a harrowing situation into a plea for bravery and leadership. Bluegrass, folk and rock ‘n’ roll mix with ease in it, and Woodsmith practically bursts with passion at the climax.
“Change” then settles down in the bottoms, a backwater blues as if played in a dilapidated church. Gospel harmonies by the McCrary Sisters, and Ludiker emulating a crying spirit with her peals of fiddle, complete the picture. “The Long Game” could be about the band, or a mate. Either way, commitment to self and team plays out elegantly, the lush melodies calling to mind California’s Laurel Canyon circa 1965.
The textures are smooth and contemporary for the cleverly-titled and incredibly gorgeous “The Odds of Getting Even,” and in “It’s about Time,” the melody and harmonies are at once tied to classic soul, and not tied to it. “Peg Monster” hammers Cajun and Celtic shapes into a square dance bluegrass stomper, and “First Song Dancer” honky-tonks down Nashville’s main drag.
There’s not a wasted second throughout these 42 minutes of something for everyone. Della Mae flat-out thrills with chops, rock-solid songs, and strength in purpose.
— Tom Clarke
Release: Jan. 17, 2020
Live performance: WinterWonderGrass 2020, Squaw Valley - March 26-29