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Larkin Poe releases new live concert album

Larkin Poe
New Album Paint the Roses features Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble

All Blues host John Kessler spoke with Larkin Poe's Rebecca and Megan Lovell about their new live album and staying busy during the pandemic.

John Kessler: We are very glad to have a chance to chat with Larkin Poe, Rebecca and Megan Lovell. The sisters have been performing since they were kids in the acoustic roots band The Lovell Sisters, and since 2010 as Larkin Poe with Rebecca on lead vocals and guitar, Megan on harmony vocals and lap steel guitar. And if you listen to All Blues, you know what a huge fan of their music I am. I want to hear all about your new album. But first I want to know how the pandemic and the lockdown has affected you. You couldn't tour, but it seems like you were especially productive with two studio albums last year and a new album coming out this fall.

Rebecca Lovell:  It was quite surprisingly and unexpectedly a very, very busy year for us. The universe threw all of us a pretty big punch to roll with. And I think especially people in the creative fields were challenged with thinking outside the box creatively. We had to stay engaged and continue to create and engage with, you know, fans around the world. We're so used to being able to travel and take our music to people physically that we definitely turned on a dime and tried to pivot, to continue to have some positivity. And that positivity really came out as working on two records and endless live streams, kicking off our fan clubs. We kept really busy, and, a lot of ways, I think that social connection between us and our fans around the world, it really helped keep a lot of us sane.

John: Right. And you obviously have a huge following of people on YouTube with your videos, extensive videos. So I guess you were already kind of positioned to interact with an audience virtually. But it just must have been a shock to not be on tour.

Megan Lovell: Especially considering we have been touring since we were 16, 17 years old. So, yeah, it's definitely a huge part of our lives. And it was very, very interesting to take a year off.

John: So we can't really categorize you as a blues band because you play so many other different things, but blues is a big part of your identity. And since we are a blues show, I'm interested to know how you came to the blues.

Rebecca: Yes. We grew up playing bluegrass music as children, so I suppose 12, 13 years old, you know, little classical kids, Megan and Rebecca found themselves at a bluegrass festival and were converted to a deep love of roots American music. So I imagine it was only a matter of time. You know, we grew up listening to a lot of Southern rock records, most notably like the Allman Brothers. And we're very familiar with the sound of slide guitar, which very much captured Megan's attention. And I guess it would have been, you know, five or six years ago together we listened to a Son House record and things just clicked into place. And I think an interest in educating ourselves on the history of who might the Allman Brothers have been listening to, who is Son House, who created, you know, the bedrock of American culture. And it really just opened up such an incredible adventure for us musically, creatively as sisters to go on. And it feels like a great homecoming as well, musically, for us to be able to delve more deeply into the blues. So five or six years ago and our lives have been indelibly changed. Mm-hmm.

John: So I run into this in programming the radio show, a lot of early blues songs are frankly — it's a male catalog first of all for, you know, 99 percent. And there's so much sexism and violence. How do you deal with that?

Rebecca: That's a very interesting question. Thank you for asking that. Growing up, you know, with the bluegrass catalog, what I find pretty interesting is that there is quite a lot of overlap lyrically. So from a very young age, I think we were somewhat desensitized. But also, I think it's not necessarily too provocative to say that, you know, violence and sexism is a large part of the majority of pop culture as a general rule. So I think you definitely have somewhat of a scar tissue and a callous against some of that lyrical and cultural content. And a lot of ways, I think, being able to crawl inside a lot of these blues songs of our own volition and rework them to be represented in song by a female voice. It's actually pretty empowering. I mean, you can kind of if you look at our catalog, you know, our record that we released at the top of last year, She's a Self-Made Man, so being able to have a healthy sense of humor and tongue in cheek when dealing with these type of issues, I think, again, kind of helps you stay sane.

Megan: And when we approach a traditional song, like, we come to blues with a great respect for blues and a great respect for the people that that came before and created that music. But we also aren't afraid to change it and put our own spin on it. So we have ended up like changing lyrics. If we don't feel comfortable speaking those lyrics into the world, we will shift them to something we do want to speak about.

John: A great, great answer. And I'm sure I knew you had spent some time thinking about it because, I mean, anyone who is familiar with the genre, you know, you have to in this modern age, it's like we can't talk about people that way and women that way. And. Well, you mentioned the Allman Brothers earlier. And I want to hear just a little bit about one of my favorite Larkin Poe songs, which is "Back Down South" from Self-Made Man. Every year, I do a post about the best blues songs of the year, and honestly, I think that was one of the very best written songs of 2020. So I wanted to hear just a little bit about how that song came into being.

Rebecca: That is very kind. Thank you. Yeah, I and my husband, Tyler Bryant, he is a heavyweight musician as well out of Texas and deeply schooled in the tradition of the blues. And we both bonded originally over a big love of American music. And so we got together. We have a home studio here, at our house here in Nashville, Tennessee. And we wanted to write a song kind of name-checking a lot of the artists that were inspirational to us and also just create sort of a musical vignette of, you know, the way that we perceive Southern music. And it was such a joyous experience to write. He and I don't write together too terribly often, but it's a really rewarding experience. And we just found ourselves smiling a lot. You know, when you have someone that's completing your sentences. And so it was a really fun song to write. And I'm really proud of the way that it does hang together and the message and the way that it makes me feel some type of way that it really takes, it takes the words and creates a picture for sure.

John: Yeah. Yeah. I get goosebumps every time I hear, it's one of those tunes. And of course, the slide guitar is a big part of that song as well. I know that you can't avoid Duane Allman if you're a slide guitar player. Who are some of your other people, Megan, that you have been inspired by slide-wise?

Megan: Yeah, I have to say, Jerry Douglas was a big one for me. I started out on dobro and that was my first introduction to two slide guitars — was the Dobro and specifically Jerry Douglas, like listening to a lot of Alison Krauss and Union Station. But then from there, of course, there are so many great classic rock 'n' roll sliders like, David Lindley is an amazing lap steel player that I really admire. And then also, you know, all of the stylings of the Allman Brothers. And Duane is just, yeah, it's a classic sound that I have definitely been super inspired by. And I like Derek Trucks, yeah, he sounds like an operatic vocalist. It's like a voice. And that's what has so drawn me to slide. Yeah.

John: So I know we just have a few minutes left. I want to hear about your brand-new album, which is coming out next week. Right, September 17th, Paint the Roses Live in Concert with The Nu Deco Ensemble. And what a cool and different sound for you and for people that haven't heard it yet. It's Larkin Poe with a full orchestra backing them up. So just real quick, how did that come to be?

Rebecca: Yes, you know, growing up, playing classical music, because that was our original introduction to music as a whole, was playing classical violin, piano with kids. We were so fortunate to have parents that valued music and put us in lessons. So we always aspired to marry, you know, the music of our adulthood with the music of our childhood in some form or fashion, integrating with a classical element. And so when Nu Deco approached us, we absolutely jumped at the opportunity. You know, in 2020, everyone was thinking creatively outside the box with the livestreams. And so Nu Deco approached us and asked if we'd be interested in flying down to Miami in December. It was a COVID-safe show. Lots of protocol in place for a one-night live streaming experience of Larkin Poe performing original songs with the ensemble. We got down there, and it was such a joy. We actually didn't get to hear the arrangements until we were on stage rehearsing, and it was just like the most, you know, goosebump, hair-on-the-neck-raising experience of all time to have so many humans collaborating together on our original songs. And when we listened back to the board tapes, after the performance was finished, we were really moved by the performances because they really did have a special energy to them. And we decided we really wanted to pursue releasing it on a grander scale. We didn't want it to be relegated to a one-time occurrence, and thus, our very first-ever live record came together. And we're so proud.

John: Yeah, well, you should be. And so it's only like two advanced singles that I've heard so far. One of them is the Bessie Jones/Georgia Sea Islands Singer song "Sometimes." That is an amazing song. So the Gullah music is a part of your region as well. I mean, being in north Georgia, I've always loved that. I've always loved the Georgia Sea Island Singers and Bessie Jones. And that's the song that you've recorded before. So what was it like to perform it with the orchestra? I mean ...

Rebecca: It was thrilling because when we recorded "Sometimes" for Venom and Faith, we definitely went for more of a drum-and-fife approach style of blues with the snare line and a horn section in the middle. And we'd never really performed that song live because we weren't able to incorporate those elements. So getting to finally have a horn section at our disposal, and also a full percussion group, it was epic — and then surrounded by string players that were all clapping in time. And it was yeah, it was a very memorable moment. And I think that you can definitely hear everyone's sort of anticipation and joy in the recording.

John: Well, yeah, it definitely comes through, and we'll be playing it starting this week. So you're going to be getting a lot of airplay on that. I'm sure it's a really interesting album. Paint the Roses Live in Concert Larkin Poe with the Nu Deco Ensemble. Everyone go out and get it. Thank you so much, I know you have to run. You're super busy, and we so appreciate you taking just a few minutes to bring us up to date. And the next time you're out in the Seattle area, please, please stop in and say hello.

Larkin Poe with Nu Deco Ensemble “Sometime” from the new album Paint The Roses

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.