Megan Lovell plays slide guitar with the distressed venom of an early-century blues codger and the twinkle-in-her-eye classiness of the well-practiced young lady that she is. Sister Rebecca also plays sweet, tough guitar, and sings with absolute confidence in a voice full of burnt honey soul. In harmony, the Lovell sisters sweep the blues right out of the picture. Larkin Poe, whether as an acoustic duo, or a very plugged-in band, are generally lumped in with the blues, and/or one of the “new breed” of Southern rockers. But rare senses of discovery and innovation, and an expertise with a huge variety of 20th century popular music from bluegrass to pop, render both tags shortsighted.
“Paint the Roses: Live in Concert” presents seven songs — six originals and an old blues — taken from a December 2020 concert in Miami with the wide-open, hybrid Nu Deco Ensemble. The webcast event afforded Larkin Poe the only opportunity as an electric band to play the songs from “Self Made Man,” the album the sisters released just as the lockdown locked everyone down. The collaboration works incredibly well, as the “produced” studio aspects of those songs are replaced by Nu Deco’s orchestral embellishments, allowing the songs to breathe naturally and vigorously.
A unique interpretation of Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes” opens the album, the band maintaining, as they did on “Self Made Man,” the hand-clappin,’ field-hollerin’ aspects of Jones’ 1960’s Alan Lomax-recorded original. But the Ensemble’s strings, percussion and horns take it into bold, Fleetwood Mac Tusk-like territory, a bending of the blues that resonates fearlessness. That opener very appropriately sets up a run through Larkin Poe’s own “Back Down South,” a catchy, clever, name-dropper of a rocker that celebrates their Peach State home, and its music. Weaving in verses of the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky,” followed by a fist-in-the-air salute to them, works seamlessly and reveals a major inspiration. “Mad as a Hatter” comes from a point in Larkin Poe’s career when they were finding themselves, guised in various folk and rock sounds, after having begun as the teenaged bluegrass trio, The Lovell Sisters. Updated with a fresh sheen of polish here, the song could be a Disney classic, the dramatic effects of it riveting.
“Danger Angel” then swoops in on acoustic guitars, bold rhythms and melodramatic strings, calling to mind the grand nature of the English progressive rock band, Renaissance. “Tears of Blue to Gold” skips along before bursting into a gallop of delight, while “Every Bird that Flies” takes an engaging, albeit melancholy route, the despair in its lyrics set free. The sequencing and pacing of the album offers the type of rising and falling of emotion found at a flawlessly performed stage play. Larkin Poe have done it again. There’ll be no mystery surrounding their rise to the top.
Larkin Poe and Nu Deco Ensemble
‘Paint the Roses: Live in Concert’
Label: Tricki-Woo Records
Release: Sept. 17, 2021