The current darlings of the bluegrass world, Flatt Lonesome—the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artists of 2014—return with their third album in just over as many years. Flatt Lonesome create a type of bluegrass that isn’t that which I favour. Their bluegrass is very polished and fine-tuned; from my perspective, too much so. When I listen to their music, I feel all the passion of a Rhonda Vincent festival show—staged, rehearsed, and a little frightening in its lack of spontaneity.
Flatt Lonesome is incredibly popular, and seem to be attracting the same rabid and loyal fan adoration that Vincent did a decade ago. They are a fresh-faced, youthful presence within the industry. I don’t feel it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not their target. The group continues to improve, and this album is far stronger than their uneven debut of 2013 and continues the advancement made on last year’s Too, an album that made the Top Five in the IBMA’s Album of the Year category.
Kelsi Robertson Harrigill is the distinctive voice of the group with a strong, vibrant timbre to her voice, one that reveals depth even when the material is overwrought, as on “Letting Go.” On solid and meaningful songs—Gram Parsons’ honky tonk classic “Still Feeling Blue” and the well-crafted original “Casting All Your Care On Him”—the listener can become mesmerized. When harmonizing, often on songs sung by sister Charli and either with her or brother Buddy, she demonstrates that she is a sensitive, aware partner.
Charli Robertson is also well-showcased throughout the dozen tracks on the album. She is given the closing lead on Kasey Chambers’ title track, and this is possibly her strongest performance. Singing her father’s “New Lease on Life,” Charli nails the song’s dueling spirits of independence and need; the resophonic sound of Michael Stockton further heightens this piece. On Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re the One” she is less successful, but one suspects this is due to the banality of the vocal arrangement and instrumental accompaniment: lyrics that were desperate when sung by Yoakam some twenty-five years ago are delivered without believable intent here.
The group is comprised of most obviously talented, well-schooled bluegrass instrumentalists, and long-time producer Andrea Roberts, working with Jeff Collins and Danny Roberts, frames the group favourably. The instrumental “Road to Nottingham” is confidently elusive, revealing a spirit of independence and frivolity. “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart” and The Bluegrass Cardinal’s “Don’t Come Running,” both sung by Buddy, are similarly playful while the album’s lead track, “You’ll Pay,” is an example of what the band does best.
Flatt Lonesome is a stellar bluegrass band, and if I was booking a festival they would be on my list to book. While I personally am unlikely to listen to the group in my leisure time, this is a matter of personal taste and says nothing of the worthiness of the group. Their harmonies spot on, the recorded mix of Runaway Train is appealing and lively.
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