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Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys

Ionia – 2015 (Earthwork)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys

Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys lie in wait, in the amorphous, ill-defined genre of "Americana" or "roots" music, ready to win you over. This four-piece band, most of who are originally from Michigan, plays spare arrangements within a bluegrass structure. The listener may be forgiven for thinking that this is nothing new, ploughing ground of Nora Jane Struthers, Lake Street Dive and the late, lamented Joy Kills Sorrow (either the Heather Massie or Emma Beaton iterations). But, to mention LLATF with those other bands is not to diminish, but to encourage favorable comparison.

"Ionia" is solid and strong throughout its 12 tracks. The title track, "Ionia," is atypical in that features no vocals, but yet is emblematic of the simple and crisp musicianship which the band brings to the work. It's a simple mix here: Lindsay Lou (Petroff) Rilko with strong, soulful singing; Dobro player Mark Lavengood plays sneaky-sweet countermelodies to Joshua Rilko's straightahead mandolin licks. New member P.J. George (formerly with the aforementioned Struthers) lays down a solid bass line.

Lindsay Lou keep it between the lines, with enough humor and craftiness to keep the listener engaged. Each now and again, one of Lavengood's Dobro turns suggests that the band could accelerate to 140 mph and tear some new, off-road ground (think Greensky Bluegrass). The band is content to bring straight-on strong material like "Old Song" and "The River Jordan" and show that there's still a place where strong lyrics, phrasing and musicianship matter. In the hands of another band, "Here Between" and other tunes could easily be converted to an anthem-of-the-day. LLATF are assured in their work, and it's good work.