Della Mae Are Bluegrass Bad-Asses on 'The Butcher Shoppe EP'

Photo courtesy of Concord Music Group

The Butcher Shoppe succeeds in partially shoving the boy's club out of the way. In doing so, Della Mae's regain their position as bluegrass bad-asses.

The Butcher Shoppe EP
Della Mae


1 March 2019

Hailing from Nashville, by way of Boston, Della Mae imbues their music with an undeniable fierceness. The power is palpable in their stage shows while deftly transcending on the recent The Butcher Shoppe EP . Formed in 2009, Della Mae were originally considered one of the few all-women string bands on the bluegrass scene. That designation required Della Mae to approach their music with moxie and resolution. Indeed, their career is evidence they have always done so and The Butcher Shoppe EP exceeds these expectations. Composed of unreleased fan favorites from their live sets as well as cover songs, the EP is an unadulterated display of their musical alacrity.

As the first seconds of The Butcher Shoppe EP transpire, it is apparent that Della Mae's musicality is brazen. The thrilling opener, "Bourbon Hound", gives the listener a sense of their stage shows' energy and affinity for fun. A drinking-song spiked with double entendre, "Bourbon Hound" echoes the grittiness of Wanda Jackson's rockabilly. Much as Jackson intermixed toughness with sexuality, Della Mae shows a similar penchant when they sing, "Why don't you swing it on back / Make another Old Fashioned / Stir it up right for all that dancing / Baby, won't you whirl me around."

It's important to acknowledge the track is called "Bourbon Hound" not booze-hound. Instead of producing the track as a full-fledged party anthem, Della Mae uses the lyrics to demonstrate their knowledge about whiskey and its flavor profiles thereby conflating tippling with expertise. More so, "Bourbon Hound" exhibits a frolicsome wordsmithery with the lyrics "Booker takes you home for the night / A little Buffalo Trace and my feet are off the ground". Della Mae's ability to interject carousing with lexicon is both celebratory and clever.

Besides the convivial wordsmithery, Della Mae's musicians are a master class. The clearest display of Della Mae's adroit musicality is in the instrumental "No-See-Um Stomp". The track is a three-minute blast showcasing Della Mae's intrepid musical talents. Opening with Kimber Ludiker's virtuosic fiddle playing, she eventually meets up with twin guitar contributions from guest musicians Avril Smith and Molly Tuttle. Zoe Guigueno's bass, underscored by Jenni Lyn Gardner's mandolin, tricks the ear into hearing the word "stomp" despite the lack of vocals. Finalizing the track as an instrumental is a shrewd production choice. Adding a layer of lyrics would certainly clutter "No-See-Um Stomp" then render the impressive string plucking secondary. Pristine and nimble, "No-See-Um Stomp" is why Della Mae is such an enthralling group.

Essentially, The Butcher Shoppe EP is a musical memo to not mess with Della Mae. In case there were any doubts, "Sixteen Tons" solidifies their strength and power. Their cover of the Merle Travis classic, made famous by "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, combines elements of soul with Ludiker's plaintive fiddle and Alison Brown's Arcadian banjo. But Celia Woodsmith's vocals are the showstopper. At times her voice jumps from abrasiveness to sultriness imparting a quasi-theatrical spin on the coal miner's sorrow. Della Mae, however, casts aside melodrama for fortitude when the lament reaches its apogee: "If you see me comin', you'd better step aside / A lotta men didn't, and a lotta men died / I got one fist of iron and the next fist of steel." Della Mae's authority is apparent.

The Butcher Shoppe EP ends with a cover of the the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post". Again, Woodsmith is valorous and seductive endowing the musical epic with acute misery. Later in the EP, Della Mae also pays tribute to Flatt and Scruggs with their cover of "Sleep With One Eye Open". But the covers are problematic as they only emphasize male musicians. Without question, Merle Travis, "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, the Allman Brothers, and Flatt and Scruggs are foundational to the history of bluegrass and folk music. But where are the equally inspirational and important women musicians? As Della Mae misses the opportunity to cover prominent female forebearers, they also miss the opportunity to usurp androcentrism.

Despite this, The Butcher Shoppe EP succeeds in partially shoving the boy's club out of the way while making room for Della Mae's dynamism. In doing so, Della Mae's regain their position as bluegrass bad-asses.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.