Venom & Faith
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Bluesy fireworks start immediately as you push play on Larkin Poe’s follow-up to 2017’s well-received Peach. The cover of Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes” kicks off as Rebecca Lovell’s husky voice blasts out above handclaps and percussion sounding like the funkiest prison chain-gang mantra you’ve ever heard. Slowly, staccato horns add to the mysterious effect, with a snare drumline punching home the beat. The track draws an early line in the sand for the Lovell sisters (Megan plays lap steel), setting the bar for a rip-roaring set of proudly tough, gritty, tense Southern blues.
Every song is powered by romping, stomping beats, pushing into the philosophical red zone. Even when the tone is dampened on the introspective, stripped-down gospel ballad “Ain’t Gonna Cry” and the haunting, snakelike swamp of “Honey Honey,” the effect is chilling, edgy and evocative. There’s a sing-along chorus waiting to explode in front of a live audience wherever you land. On “California King,” it’s “I’ve got a funny feeling, honey is it all in my head?”; on the spooky “Fly Like an Eagle” (not the Steve Miller hit), it’s the title, as a creepy slide hovers in the background over techno bass. And on the alliterative “Beach Blonde Bottle Blues,” Rebecca howls, “Ooh, ooh, child, watcha’ gonna’ do,” just urging the audience to shout it back as Megan sizzles on slide.
A spine-tingling version of Skip James’ “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues,” the second of only two covers, shows how historically deep the duo goes to tap into their inspiration. Megan’s sensual guitar slithers and crawls as the percussion clomps, punctuating the darkness inherent in the lyrics. Tyler Bryant guests on resonator guitar for the ominous “Mississippi,” but the vast majority of the album’s instrumentation is provided by the Lovells.
This isn’t your basic Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled blistering blues rock. It’s far more primal, malicious, and unsettling. The siblings cover themselves in the Delta mud, clawing through the mosquito-infested woods with sounds that get under your skin and stay there. The set closes with the gospel-ized death ditty “Good and Gone,” as Rebecca hums and chants the melody over eerie pounding.
The album is finished a scant 32 heart-pulsating minutes after it started, but nothing is rushed. Rather, the Lovell sisters have opened the door to a dark, bluesy, portentous worldview, something sinister and threatening even in its lightest moments. It’s like little else out there, so hang on tight and join them.