By Chris Wheatley
Grammy award-nominated sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who record under the moniker Larkin Poe, conjure up music as gripping and visceral as the beating of the tell-tale heart which features in their literary ancestor Edgar Allan Poe’s famous tale. The Atlanta-born, Nashville-based duo grew up on a diet of classical violin and piano, before forming their first bluegrass group (with younger sister, Jessica), the Lovell Sisters, in their late teens. In 2010 they disbanded, rebranded and have, to date, released four albums of raw and powerful roots-rock. A follow up to their last album, Venom & Faith, their newest is Self Made Man out June 12th.
The first thing which strikes you about Larkin Poe’s music is its power. They have that ‘easy’ heaviness that so many bands strive hard to achieve. The opener and title track kicks off with a drum-and-guitar pulse, paying homage to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.” It’s a clever reference, further born out by the sister’s lyrics: “I was down and out, now I’m up again.” This is classic, rising and falling blues, turned up to the max. The chorus is infectious, the interplay between rhythm, guitar and vocals, mesmerizing. By the end of the song’s short duration, you know that you are dealing with musicians whose knowledge of, and love for, blues and roots Americana is both genuine and deep. The playfully ironic title of the album and song say much about the sister’s independent spirit.
“Holy Ghost Fire” features more of their excellent guitar-work and soulful, soaring vocals. There’s no showboating here. Larkin Poe possess the confidence and restraint to provide flash where needed, but not to rely on it. Total music is what they are seeking to achieve; that elusive, perfect balance between what is stated and what is implied. “Burn, baby, burn with that holy ghost fire.” Here, the sisters leap from sparse arrangements to ‘wall of sound’ in a manner which in no way feels forced or disjointed. They rock hard, glide smooth and, above all, churn up the blues with an honesty and assuredness that is a delight to behold.
As songwriters, Larkin Poe are inspired. Listen to “God Moves on the Water.” Musically, it thumps along like a heated sermon, rattling and thudding. “Europe, nineteen-hundred and twelve, April, the fourteenth day…” The song recounts tales of natural destruction, from the disaster of the Titanic onwards. “Easy Street,” is a joyful meditation on the painful process of learning by experience: “Times are hard, but they’re real, keep my shoulder to the wheel.” Similar to the most innovative and capable of bands before them, Larkin Poe are able to vary tempo, mood and feel without losing the substance which makes for the identity of the sound.
You have to admire the sister’s determination and self-belief. Even in Georgia, bluegrass can’t have been the ‘coolest’ choice for teenagers, and ever since that decision, they have been determinedly forging their own path. There is a strong sense on Self Made Man, and indeed on all of their records, that Rebecca and Megan share a singular vision and utilise every talent that they possess in bringing that vision to life. It should be no surprise that their music is released via their own label, Tricki-Woo Records.
Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, Larkin Poe also self-produced this album. They’ve done a great job. Particularly pleasing is the way in which they have been brave enough to leave in enough rough edges to give the recordings a gritty, engaging feel. Too many roots recordings these days veer towards a clinical, over-polished sound. Self Made Man, by contrast, manages to be both high-quality and dirty. You can practically hear the dust wafting down Mississippi streets on a hot, swampy day. These same streets, where Howlin’ Wolf and countless other blues musicians played for loose change, are at the heart of Larkin Poe’s offerings. Their appeal generates from their authenticity, and is all the better for it.
Listen to “Back Down South”
Larkin Poe Online