I’m not really sure how to classify Belle Starr. They’re not coffeehouse folksy tripe; they’re not really country; there’s no bluegrass here; they’re not earnest women’s guitar music. I guess I hear a little of all of this in their music, otherwise I wouldn’t be making these opposing comparisons. I’m trying to paint a textual picture of Belle Starr’s music, but I can really only think of what they aren’t. In the end, my inability to pigeonhole them attests to the originality of their music.
My anti-comparison to women’s music is really quite far off the bat: Belle Starr is Lynne Reif’s vocals backed by four men. Belle Starr plays folksy songs about love lost, love found, night-time, emotional confusion, and such. But, again, my comparison to folk music is not really on target either. Belle Starr has way too many country guitar leads and licks to allow them into any folk camp. But for country, they play too earnestly. Every time I find a cliché with which to label Belle Starr, it just doesn’t work quite right (though, speed metal they ain’t, obviously).
Each time I pop nobody you’d know into the CD player, comparisons keep appearing in my head and then floating away: there’s Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Freakwater, Gillian Welch, the Bottle Rockets, the Byrds, even a little Ricki Lee Jones. (My wife said with a bit of a snarl, “Sounds like the Indigo Girls!” “Geez Beda, they’re not that bad,” I retorted). But, at bottom, Belle Starr is really all of these sounds rolled into one. Good country guitar, interspersed with both banjo and saxophone, clear harmonies, and folk-pop melodies led by Lynne Reif’s round and slightly drowsy voice make Belle Starr something not quite like anything I have ever heard. Imagine folk music that isn’t afraid of pounding some skins and getting their guitars a little fuzzy.
Nobody You’d Know is Belle Starr’s second album (their first was from 1996, Far as the Wind Blows). They hail from St. Louis and have won numerous awards there as a leading country band. Founder Kip Loui (rhythm guitar and vocals, Belle Starr’s principal songwriter) has also helped found St. Louis’s annual Twangfest. For something new, pick up Nobody You’d Know. Play it while you’re cooking dinner. You won’t be disappointed.