Michigan-based four-piece Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys routinely mix roots, bluegrass and Americana influences into their own distinct sound on new album Ionia. From these pathways, and the current vogue for female-led groups mixing in these circles, it might have been easy for the ‘Bellys to lapse into some more well-worn territory, but they have succeeded in capturing something different, something which has encapsulated their essence. The band manage to take their collective pasts and move forward into the future with energy and passion.
Perhaps this uniqueness, this togetherness has come about as a result of the recording of the album. The band — mandolinist Joshua Rilko, dobro player Mark Lavengood, bassist PJ George and Lindsay Lou herself — shut themselves away in a house for four days (presumably last) fall, and totally immersed themselves in the record and its delivery. The results are impressive, from the sweet and beguiling welcome of opener “Hot Hands”, which feels light, summery, and breezy despite the autumnal recording environment. “Everything Changed” is highlighted by Lindsay’s intimate vocals and a funky, insistent mandolin.
The songs on Ionia have a definite “light but deep” charm, with a singer who is able to explain their stories around and between the accompanists’ musicianship — with both sides sitting together well and corresponding to each other. “The Fix” helps to define the band’s sound, with harmonies and a spirited direction to boot, one which is continued on “Old Song” — a perfect example of their modern Americana sound — which is worked up in the intro around more floating vocals and a story of strength and spirit. The Flatbellys are able to show both their roots (some very authentic-sounding banjo playing), but also their view of the future on this beautiful piece.
“Sometimes” is more rootsy, with its bass, blues harp and shared vocals. It’s rangy, head-nodding and hypnotic, and it shows off the care and effort put into the songs on the album and their recording. “Criminal Style” brings in elements of blues and bluegrass around a funny, ironic song. “House Together”, meanwhile, is a funky, modern take which manages to show more of the love and dedication to their craft that the band obviously have and which cannot and should not be overlooked. Again, the instruments (think sliding, chopping guitar and bass) and vocals work well together; the syncopation is second to none on this one.
Close your eyes, drift off and let the music take you up “The River Jordan”. A true highlight of the record, this song, and the fact that it has been made, sung and enjoyed is important. “You and me, the river and the morning…”: here is encapsulated the optimism, delight, and strength of Ionia. The title cut is, interestingly, an instrumental, with flowing lines tethered to some neat touches of drums, all topped with banjo, handclaps and stomping. All the different parts of the tune fit together so well — everything is seamless, and you can tell that the constant live shows which the band have had in recent times has helped create a tight ship. Different instruments take turns in the spotlight and focus, and it is great to hear a non-vocal track amidst the songs.
Closer “Smooth & Groovy” is exactly that — low down, dirty and groovy, and shows a refreshingly different side to the band and their compositions. Ionia is a sweet, well-delivered set which will bring the sounds of Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys to more ears.