Album review: LARKIN POE – Venom & Faith

In March 2011 David Randall interviewed Larkin Poe for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio during one of their earliest UK tours. This exclusive edit provides insight at an early point in the duo’s career. (9:45)

LARKIN POE - Venom & Faith

Proper Music [Release date 09.11.18]

Nashville based Larkin Poe sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell started out as folkies with a series of EPs, tried their hand at The Pierces style ‘pop’ with their full length debut Kin (2014), and finally discovered their muse with last year’s self-produced blues infused Peach – an album that disappointingly escaped a UK release.

It was an album that saw the sisters dip deep into the blues, adding their own modern day twist, and ending up with a nomination for a Blues Music Award for Best Emerging Artist Album.

Displaying a new found maturity, covering Lead Belly’s, Ram Jam-made-famous, ‘Black Betty’, Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ and ‘Preachin’ Blues’,  Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘John The Revelator’,  and the traditional chain gang song ‘Tom Devil’ alongside an equal number of  originals,  it was a glorious collision of past and present.

One that laid down the blueprint for Venom & Faith – an album that consolidates and refines the sisters’ celebration of American roots music, adding their own unique stamp, and this time making it even more accessible  – perfect not only for satiating the seemingly unquenchable current demand for Americana, but for bringing on board a new generation.

Opening with ‘Sometimes’ – a number the girls first heard being sung – except for a few sparse hand claps, completely a cappella by blues legend Bessie Jones – the Larkin Poe rendition weaves in some new lyrics and adds a horn section in the bridge, building from handclaps, vocals and stomps to bring it bang up to date.

This time it’s one of only two covers on the album, the other Skip James’ ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’, but the sisters’ own songs are so deeply steeped so in the heritage of the American South that it’s almost impossible to tell where the past ends and the present begins.

With ghosts of the past at every turn, ‘Beach Bottle Blues’ could be an old standard, ‘Honey Honey’ is broodily swamp laden with a semi-rap groove – a masterpiece in taking influences, blending them, and coming up with something completely original, ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ has an irrepressible camp fire riff, ‘Fly Like An Eagl’e (no, not the Steve Miller track) shows a new level of song writing maturity, and ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry’ is a moodily soulful sisters’ co-write.

Self-produced, like Peach, and with the sisters taking on virtually all of the instrumentation, their bleedingly soulful vocals are rightly pushed way to the fore, with musical accompaniment pared to the organic percussive sound of slammed drawers and doors, stomping on hardwood floors, and with lap steel, slide guitars, and banjos providing an irrepressibly natural vibe to proceedings.

You can’t but help but feel there’s a certain parallel here between Page and Plant who took the blues and made it something ‘new’ in the late sixties/early seventies.  Purists will probably be aghast, but with Peach, and now Venom & Faith, Larkin Poe could be set to pull off a similar conjuring trick in bringing the blues to the masses.

Yes, there’s a freight train comin’ down the line, and on the evidence here, it could be unstoppable.  Hold onto your hats. ****1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

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