Album Review: Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Live at Dorothy Major
Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are an artful indie folk trio comprised of Lizzie Quinlan, Patrick Kennedy, and Matt Kolodzieski. The three talented musicians work together well, generating an energy that comes through on several of the band’s moving tracks. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain what makes indie folk music work, compared to those who fall short. I think it comes down to that difficult-to-explain “it” factor. These three definitely have “it,” wrapped in impressionistic notions of life and love that seep through every song.
The album begins with featured track “Hover,” an intricate and artful tale. Lizzie’s vocal instantly brings credibility to the group’s sound. The strings dance around the main melody, creating an adept and captivating song. As good as the opener is, it is immediately upstaged by “Plans,” the second track on the album. The strings on the song combined with a clever lead vocal make for something that feels sophisticated. When the female lead takes over, there’s an added texture to the song. The light notes of the harp contrast perfectly with the lower strings and rapping rhythm of the percussion. The group harmonies tie it all together beautifully. The repetitive, “we’ll sleep it all away” lyric highlights the whimsical character of the song.
“Ashland” captures conflict and uncertainty. It’s a song about an apology and moving on. It’s brutal and, despite the melodic steel guitar (I think?), the grating acoustic guitar works to convey pain. “I gotta let it go.” It’s not really a sit back and relax song, but it comes in at a great place on the album, shaking up the order. The following “Church Key” flirts with some interesting spiritual imagery. It’s probably melodically my favorite on the album. The harmonies bring just enough warmth to the composition to keep it interesting. I’m reminded of folds or layers as I hear the song unfold. I can’t imagine keeping up with the key changes, but I do appreciate the complexity sonically as it depicts the fascinating mystery of the afterlife.
The final track “Silhouette” moves me the most and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I guess I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of compositions, highlighting an intimate connection. The cello really steals the show on this one, so that could be what draws my ear to it. Anyways, I think it’s the perfect way to end the album. Lyrically it is a romantic song, but it’s not just a happily ever after moment. Rather, it’s about the complicated reality of someone else moving on and feeling like what you had was enough. The repetitive theme “it’s enough” is intriguing and strangely satisfying.
This may not be a toe tapping album like the Lumineers or Mumford, but it deserves to be in that kind of conversation. These are talented musicians with a focus on artful presentation. Maybe you call them chamber folk or (at times) orchestral folk, but no matter what you call them, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are three talented individuals with a gift for wrestling with complicated issues using exceptional lyrics and outstanding musical compositions.