'Venom & Faith' is the title of Larkin Poe's new album and represents the Atlanta duo diving even deeper into the swampy blues that has marked their work over the last five years, following their left turn away from the sweet country styling of their 'Spring, Summer, Fall, Summer' set in 2010. It's a short album but it packs a powerfully bluesy punch. It was produced by the Lovell's sisters themselves and recorded in Nashville although the country stylings of yore are long gone.
In conversation, Megan tells me "we had the most fun making 'Venom & Faith'; it’s been our favorite experience in the studio of our career so far. We knew we wanted to self-produce after making our album ‘Peach’ and finding the process really freeing and gratifying. ‘Peach’ felt like a celebration of a return to our roots, both personally and musically... so we decided to walk farther down the same path with ‘Venom & Faith’. We’re so pleased with the response it’s been getting!"
I asked Rebecca about the change in sound since those early years. "It’s been a very organic shift. As artists it’s natural to experiment, especially since we love music in many different genres. It’s taken some time to find our voice... we love the vein we’ve tapped into now with ‘Peach’ and ‘Venom & Faith’. It feels right and very authentic."
Rebecca's voice has taken on a deep sultry tone that invests the whole album with a maturity far beyond the sisters youth. Megan's slide playing ranks with the best and throughout the album she's cool, fiery and inventive. The album kicks of with a rollicking, almost gospel, a Capella rasp of 'Sometimes' that has a thumping backbeat, handclaps and honking brass courtesy of Thomas Cooper. It's a sparse arrangement the thats more about rhythm than anything else. That's followed by 'Bleach Blond Bottle Blues' where Megan's dangerous slide rips through the mix and I feel again that she's one of the best slide players I've ever heard. The song rolls like some kind of fast funky blues train and once again there's a stomping beat and the handclaps.
Hearing how Megan plays slide makes you wonder who her influences were. "I’ve been thankful to have grown up listening to so many iconic slide players; from Jerry Douglas to David Linley to Duane Allman to Bonnie Raitt. More recently, I’ve been loving Derek Trucks and the beautiful delta blues slide players, Son, House, Elmore James, Bukka White, among others. Luckily, Rebecca and I have very similar taste in music, which makes us in sync with our goals."
'Honey Honey' is a spooky spectral blues with sweet vocals and a real element of menace and then 'Mississippi' slides into view with a classic Ry Cooder feeling with mentions of the 'Crossroads' and the "pain and misery" and we hear the call of the devil. 'Fly Like an Eagle' (not the Steve Miller song) has another scintillating slide introduction and a doomy mysterious vocal with references to a "dream state" and gorgeous backing vocals.
This is an album that has a real 'feel' to it that conjures up the swampy heartlands of the delta and has at its heart an almost ancient feeling and recalls the old blues masters like Son House and Bukka White. It's a wonderful mixture and repays repeat listens which is what it begs rather than listening to selected tracks. 'Hard Time Killing Floor Blues' is the penultimate track and is a reworking of an old Skip James blues covered by Hendrix eons ago. Of course it's nothing like either version but works almost as a bridge across those long dead masters navigating a route through the blues of the 1920's through Hendrix's psychedelic take and then in to the music of Larkin Poe today.
The album ends with a heartfelt passionate performance from Rebecca on 'Good and Gone' which, like all good blues music, is steeped in death, loss and regret. This song probably encapsulates everything great about this fine band in a single song and it's a fitting conclusion to a superb album.
I asked Rebecca how much she thought recording the album in Nashville affected the sound. "We’ve loved living in Nashville for the past 3 years and being surrounded by so much great music and talented musicians in amazing of course. That being said, we tour so constantly we’re away from Nashville most of the time! Being born and raised in the South has had the most impact on our sound. Our roots are very deeply intertwined through the source music of the South; blues, bluegrass, and mountain music."
Discussion about the album now turned to more general conversation.
Do you have a love affair with your kit? Any special guitars, amps? Rebecca seems very fond of the lime green Fender Jazzmaster.
Megan: "I, of course, love my 1940s Rickenbacker lap steel and I play through a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp."
Rebecca: "I usually play through a Fender Deluxe reverb amp and I’ve always got my sea foam green Jazzmaster on the road. I also travel with two Fender Stratocasters and, just recently, a Burns banjo."
How much do you think that the fact that you are siblings shapes what you do? When you think about some of the classic "sibling acts", the Beach Boys, First Aid Kit, Everly Brothers - it seems as though it really does. What do you think?
Rebecca: "Being sisters is everything to us; it’s the axis around which everything else turns. We’re very close and we have a super special bond. And there’s nothing like that sibling harmony!"
Your work often references colourful characters like "Uncle Jessie", are they drawn from real-life characters or are you writing in character?
Megan: "We really enjoy writing about our family and it’s lucky that we have a wealth of very colorful characters hanging out in the family tree, including Larkin Poe (great-great-great-great grandfather) Edgar Allen Poe, and Jessie, who was actually our grandmother’s father. We like paying homage to our family by bringing them along with us in writing and memory".
As a female duo working in what's still predominantly male dominated environment have you experienced any prejudice or barriers? How do you feel about the "Me Too" movement - is it something you've experienced?
Rebecca: "Just being a musician—male or female— is hard in this competitive industry. We’ve been very fortunate to work with all kinds of artists who didn't bring our gender into the foreground. We support equality for all artists and focus on keeping our nose to the grindstone to make the best positive and honest art we can. "
How do you feel playing live and there's a line of men photographing you throughout the set?
Megan: "Everyone is welcome at our shows! We just want everyone to have a good time however they want and enjoy some energetic music."
You played quite a bit in the UK in recent years, do you think there's a difference in the way audiences respond in a live setting?
Rebecca: "UK audiences are so welcoming and supportive to us. That’s why we keep coming back!! Our sold out London show at Islington Assembly hall has been our biggest headline show ever at almost 900 enthusiastic fans strong. Here’s to many more!"
You've played quite a bit with Elvis Costello over recent years - how did that come about? How was it working with him and do you have any plans to record with him? Also what was it like opening for Bob Seeger - is it true his wife recommended you?
Megan: "We met Elvis Costello way back at the beginning of our career at an Americana festival called Merlefest. He took us under his wing and has asked us out to tour with him for many years. We’re so honored to have learned the ropes from such a musical legend! One of our favorite people on the planet hands down."
Rebecca: "We got the gig with Bob Seger after his amazing backup singer Barbara shared video of us playing ‘Preachin’ Blues’ with Bob’s wife on Facebook. Bob liked what he heard and invited us on the road. What a thrill! Another legend..."
How do you feel about the trend in "the business" towards downloading or streaming - do you think that physical media will disappear eventually and how would you feel about that?
Rebecca: "I feel very nostalgic about physical records but, in the words of Paul Simon, who am I to blow against the wind? Artists have always rolled with the punches and we’ll have to scrap it out!"
Larkin Poe have just embarked on yet another British tour and they call into The Riverside, Newcastle on April 6 and I'd urge anyone with any kind of interest in Americana, blues or rock to get hold of a ticket right now and get down there.