Album Review: Larkin Poe’s Venom & Faith (2018 LP) is a modern interpretation of traditional blues music

The blues sisters from Atlanta are back with their long-awaited fourth studio album, Venom & Faith, which follows up on the critical acclaim of last year’s Peach, which was nominated for a Blues Music Award, with a collection of ten bluesy tracks.

Don’t be fooled Larkin Poe is not a man, but instead two sisters, Megan and Rebecca Lovell on electric and lap-steel guitar, who make music under the name of their Great-Great-Great-Grandfather. This powerful duo can list five EP’s, and now four full-length records to their list of achievements, and have garnered plenty of high profile admirers, such as Elvis Costello and Bob Seger. As an independent sister act they have been touring nationally, as well as internationally for years, and never fail to deliver blues soaked tracks.

Venom & Faith pushes the genre-defining boundaries of the understanding of Southern influenced music to a limit. Opening with the Bessie Jones foot-stomping classic “Sometimes”, Rebecca’s husky voice perfectly grows into the rootsy lyrics. And to bring a recording from the last century right up to the present, Larkin Poe add in a few unexpected twists,  like the use of an electronic synth pad beat or an entire horn section, which gives the bridge a soul-like ring. “Bessie Jones was a Georgia girl too, so we find it especially cool to sing this song in her honour”, Larkin Poe said about their cover.

Bass and drums set the primal and edgy mood for “Honey Honey”, meanwhile more and more instruments sneak into the mix one by one. The song peaks with a catchy chorus, “Honey, honey I was born in the fast lane”, and features some long echoing guitar notes. Pushing further into the territory of modern music, the girls use hard electronic beats, sound techniques from Hip-Hop recording, and a vintage omnichord on “Fly Like an Eagle”. The sinister mood of “Ain’t Gonna Cry” is equally open to experimentation with its use of contemporary sound devices, whereas “Mississippi” is an authentic river delta blues track through and through. The slow and unsettling melody dances with the vocals and it feels like travelling back in time, “off to the crossroad” where once Robert Johnson too had “but one soul to sell for the blues”. Accompanying Megan’s lap steel is Tyler Bryant on resonator guitar. The two guitars vibe perfectly, and create a playfully alternating steel-string sound. The track is less than four minutes long, but not short of moody solos by Megan, the “slide queen”.

Adding to the wide array of strings, on “California King” Rebecca trades her guitar for the good old banjo, giving the song a strong folky vibe. The lyrics of fitting “California king size dreams in a twin bed”, are reflecting their lives and dreams as rising artists. Without loosing touch of their roots, Rebecca and Megan add some further modern spice into Skip James’ classic “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”. This incredibly well done cover is true to the original song and Lovell’s moaning and groaning voice lives up to the blues master’s howls with bravado.

The true gem of this album is the Larkin Poe original “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues”. This fierce single is dripping with foot-stomping, hand-clapping blues. Rebecca Lovell’s powerhouse voice is loaded with badass female energy and seamlessly blends into Megan’s gospel-like backing vocals in pure harmony, which can only come from family ties.

As a long time follower of the duo I was as exited for the album as many other fans across the globe, and certainly not disappointed. Venom & Faith is a celebration of traditional blues music brought back to life with modern elements. Larkin Poe perfectly balance their love for experimenting with new sound techniques with a deep appreciation for American roots music. Delivered with a gritty southern ring and the classic outlaw mentality, the 32-minute long LP is a thrilling depiction of blues in the 21st Century by two extraordinary talents. You cannot fake the level of authenticity the sisters bring across. Larkin Poe truly have got the blues.

 

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Venom & Faith is out now.

Watch Larkin Poe perform in Australia and New Zealand next year:

Apr 18: Byron Bay Bluesfest – Byron Bay
Apr 22: Oxford Art Factory – Sydney
Apr 24: The Howler – Melbourne
Apr 26: The Tuning Fork – Auckland, NZ
Apr 27: Blue Smoke – Christchurch, NZ

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