Thrusting, driving, rootsy, and gutsy, Della Mae hit home on their self-titled sophomore album.
Della Mae approach their new record, their second for Rounder, with a view to expand their music, their worldview, and their experience. Moving on from debut effort This World Oft Can Be, the four-piece -- Celia Woodsmith on vocals and guitar, Kimber Ludiker, fiddle and vocals, Jenni Lyn Gardner, mandolin and vocals and Courtney Hartman on guitar, banjo and vocals -- have now teamed up with eminent producer Jacquire King to convert this expansion to new set Della Mae, 11 tracks which take in new influences and new topics, new versions of classic tracks and new musical horizons.
Alongside bass player Mark Schatz and Elephant Revival frontwoman Bonnie Paine, who adds percussion and musical saw on a selection of Della Mae’s tracks, the four band members clearly work well together, bouncing ideas and themes off each other, allowing their respective instruments to find paths round each other, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but never failing to deliver punch, soul and emotion in equal measure. Starting off with the band’s original "Boston Town", the album grabs you immediately. This ode to a home town, its hard-working attitude and the social conditions of its inhabitants is heart-felt and passionate, especially in its exposition on women's rights and roles in society. Its sprightly mandolin is matched in its delivery by the harmonies which lie at its root. Voices, and their use, are as important as the virtuoso musical performances on Della Mae.
"Rude Awakening" is thrusting, driving, rootsy and gutsy, corresponding nicely with the subtle, yearning "Can’t Go Back", which exists with just a drip of mandolin and fiddle backing in its introduction, and subtle harmonies later on. It is simple, perfect, as much Della Mae as their faster tunes, and is a perfect illustration of their development. This is modern roots music writ large.
Band original "For The Sake Of My Heart" touches on country, and is quiet, restrained, informed and quite beautiful. It is affecting, having just the merest touches of harmony –- but works perfectly. It’s followed by Jenny Lyn Gardner’s lead on "Good Blood". This song shows another side of Della Mae's sound on a story of relationships and the strengths of friendships and not having to prove anything to anyone.
Della Mae is a contrasting piece of work; on the one hand quite radio-friendly, but solid and progressive on the other. "Shambles" is, fittingly, rambling, funky –- are there touches of washboard in its background? –- with cutting, rising and falling harmonies and rolling guitar and bass.
Hartman’s banjo seems to be a bit more minimal on this album than its predecessor -– but not on "Take One Day". The five-string leads the line on the nearest the band come to bluegrass on Della Mae. Chopping mandolin, tight voices and rolling fiddle breaks nod to both older songs and country life. The track is a perfect distillation of the band’s optimism and drive -– musically and otherwise. Hartman himself takes vocal lead on the darker, drawling, somehow slighter "Long Shadow", which draws itself out into a praiselike elegy.
There is a welcome touch of dobro on the low, slow, drawn-out introduction of the Rolling Stones’ "No Expectations". This one dips and dives, revealing a breathy, relaxed approach. Closer "High Away Gone" is more rootsy, prayerful, spiritual almost –- a statement of purpose and direction -– much like the entire record. From mountain to valley, Della Mae are the real deal.