Larkin Poe’s Deep Funk in “Blood Harmony”
David may have played a secret chord that pleased the Lord, but when it comes to a sound that pleases me deep in my own soul, it comes from sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell who play Larkin Poe (apparently the name of one of their great-greats).
They have a new album blood harmony it’s 11 songs and 42 minutes of guitar and slide guitar virtuosity – deep funk that evokes bands as disparate as The James Gang, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers and CSN&Y-era Neil Young (well, not so disparate). There is also a heavy dose of Bonnie Raitt in the mix both in the vocals and in the sound of the slide guitar.
The Lovell sisters, who are in their early thirties and only two years apart, have played professionally for more than half their lives – which is hard to believe unless you stop and ask yourself: what great musicians didn’t start playing gigs as teenagers? – none that I can name (Okay, maybe Leonard Cohen but he’s the exception).
There is also something to note about the power and beauty of sister harmonies found in much contemporary American roots music, be it Larkin Poe, First Aid Kit, Lucius, Appalachia Rising , or if we go back to rock-heavy heart sounds.
I came to the Larkin Poe party relatively late, in 2018, when they performed in Los Angeles for a benefit concert for the Americana Music Association and the Blues Foundations. They played a Leadbelly song, “Black Betty,” that blew the roof off the Ace Hotel Theater and shook me more than a triple espresso. You can find their cover on their 2017 album The Peach (which, I admit, like many first loves, remains my favorite Larkin Poe album).
During the pandemic, Larkin Poe has recorded numerous impromptu performances, sometimes backstage before a show, and sometimes as a live-streamed performance, adding to a vast catalog of covers they have done over the past seven years that you can watch and listen on YouTube. They cover songs they love, and songs they admire, and songs that mean something to them, and it’s a really wide range that includes a surprisingly good Stay alive by the Bee Gees, Pink Floyd wish you were Hereby Chris Isaac nasty gameThe Allman Brothers Outputby Steve Miller The Jokerby Chuck Berry Johnny B. GoodeThe stones’ start Me UpSeals Kiss of a roseby Pierre-Gabriel Massby Rod Stewart Maggie May (really great!), a beautiful cover of James Taylor You can close your eyes That of the band Ophelia… The list is lengthened increasingly. And if you know me a bit, and even if you don’t know me, know that I spent many Fridays or Saturdays late at night during the pandemic watching their videos on YouTube.
blood harmony opens with the track Deep stay down with a nice picking (I guess by Megan). Rebecca’s voice is really like another instrument being played, with the words played over the guitar work. The song builds to an increasingly loud chorus reminiscent of a church hymn – that is, if you belong to the American delta and blues church.
Here are some random thoughts on several of the other tracks on the album: Bad luck has the deep funk of an electric blues recording from the 70s – it’s the track that most reminded me of the James Gang.
hit the blues is a song where the game is at double speed, and it’s certainly a track worthy of Bonnie Raitt.
“Might As Well Be Me” is a ballad in which Rebecca Lovell’s voice soars. Over the past few years, her voice has become fuller and stronger, holding those notes longer. Megan’s guitar work reminds me of Keith Richards’ descriptions of when he cross stitches and weaves the grooves in and out of the song. At the end of the song, when Rebecca pleads “Let it be me” there is an insistence. She does not beg, she demands that it be so.
“Lips as Cold as Diamond” probably comes closest to feeling like covering a traditional dirge – in the tradition of “Make Sure My Grave is Kept Clean”.
Now, I will say that on this album the music speaks louder than the words. I have no idea if the songs on blood harmony are full of personal experiences (maybe they are), but they don’t look like it. On the other hand, I’m not saying that the songs should be autobiographical – or even make complete sense (see Bob Dylan) but the lyrics should feel like they’re telling us something we need to hear.
There’s always an exception to the rule and there’s a song here that’s clearly autobiographical in inspiration, and is my favorite song on the album, “Georgia Off My Mind” – the Lovell sisters are from North Georgia North and are now based in Nashville, Tennessee — and this song makes those facts into a song. Although their original song, this could easily be a classic Bonnie Raitt song; and Megan’s slide guitar playing is truly “Bonnie’s school” on this track.
What more can i say? There’s a problem with listening to a Larkin Poe album – you just want to listen to more and more Larkin Poe songs and covers. But, as my parents used to say, these are good problems to have.