Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This Nashville by way of Boston acoustic quartet has released two previous albums (the last one from 2013 was nominated for a Grammy), has toured the world as part of the US State Department’s American Music Abroad program and, perhaps most notably, has played San Francisco’s famous Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Since the group mixes country, folk and subtle rock leanings with a rural backwoods sound, the “hardly strictly bluegrass” tag perfectly describes their more eclectic approach. Lead singer Celia Woodsmith’s husky voice also injects a healthy amount of soul into the proceedings.
For album three, the four women get assistance from famed roots producer Jacquire King who, according to their notes, helped them find a once elusive groove in the studio. The basic instrumental lineup of guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle is augmented by stand-up bass and occasional percussion. A musical saw even makes an appearance to further push the group into a fuller, more eclectic territory. Songs such as the pulsating “Rude Awakening” and the jazzy accusatory “Shambles” display a sassy, feisty attitude that had previously been lurking in the background.
Folk ballads “Long Shadow” and “For the Sake of My Heart” boast exquisite melodies delivered with a lighter touch appropriate for their introspective lyrics. A tender version of the Stones’ “No Expectations” is a welcome surprise. The closing, sparse “High Away Gone” is the disc’s most chilling and challenging moment. It combines prison chants with fire and brimstone gospel for an unforgettable performance that leads Della Mae further afield from their comfort zone.
After hearing that, you may wish the foursome took some additional chances in that direction, but this remains a moderate leap forward for them and indicates an adventurousness they will hopefully explore further on forthcoming albums.