Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys: Ionia
On their new album, Ionia, blazing hot Michigan roots ensemble Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys rest on the cusp of change, poised at that moment where everything shifts into high gear and time rushes forward. As a tight-as-hardwood stringband, these ace players know how to sustain this moment expertly, relishing the tension between the past, which keeps pulling them backwards, and the future they’re about to rush into. You can hear this tension musically on their new album, especially on the leading song “Hot Hands,” which rabbits playfully between off meters, rapid-fire picking, stop-and-go bass lines, and steamy vocals that surge back and forth. There’s incredible kinetic motion in this music, a sense of movement so exacting and precise that it’s almost architectural.
Over the course of four days during a Michigan autumn, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys holed up in their home to record their new album. Gathered in a circle, each member leaned in closer and closer, blending vocals and instruments organically, to listen with the kind of musical precision that’s all too rare these days. “We didn’t leave the house for those four days except to walk around the block and get some air,” Lindsay explains. “Fall in Michigan is something to behold. Some of our favorite moments were standing on the big wrap around porch (pictured on the album cover) and watching the rain come down in sheets taking gusts of orange and yellow leaves with it.” Holed up against the elements, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys turned to each other for support, and this closeness is easily evident in the uncommon depth and sensitivity of their ensemble playing.
Listen to the new album from Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys and you’ll hear a band at the very top of its game. A band uncommonly attuned to each other, the product of near-constant touring and live shows made legend by their infectious, high-energy performances. Performing live, the Flatbellys delight in swapping instruments back and forth, and this is preserved on the album as well, with each band member taking turns on each other’s instruments. There’s a great sense of play and warmth in their music as well, just listen to the fantastically sarcastic “Criminal Style” or the lovely housewarming long “House Together.” But much of the power of this interplay comes from the impressive mastery each member shows over their instruments. Mandolinist Joshua Rilko picks with a careful precision that turns surprising when he slams into speedy power chords, dobro player Mark Lavengood is remarkably deft at matching melody lines with quick responses, and bassist PJ George creates bass lines cleverly crafted to uphold the whole structure of the songs. Leading the group, Lindsay Lou has the kind of voice you can get lost in. One part jazz singer, effortlessly transitioning octaves, one part blues shouter, soaring over the band like a clarion call, and one part folk singer, rousing them all together in song.
The instruments and the bedrock of the band may come from bluegrass, but the music that Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys present on their new album Ionia can best be described as Americana. This is music that’s caught between the pull of the past and the push of the beckoning future, ready to leap forward bursting with new ideas and youthful energy.