Album Review: Lac La Belle – A Friend Too Long – Thoughtful, intelligent Americana

It’s tempting to call Lac La Belle’s sound “good, old fashioned Americana.” Shades of country and old time music, with gentle notions of an amorphous “backcountry.” It’s great music that’s sure to find a lot of fans among readers of our site. You know why? Because they execute the music really well and are easy to listen to. Fans of traditional country and roots music will find a lot to like here, but there’s also a sophisticated string element that comes into play sometimes as well. In other words, this is not just another toe-tappin’ soundtrack for a barn dance. There are some beautiful tracks here that require a bit more conscious, focused engagement rather than just dancing tunes.

The opener “Rusted Bolt” has a nice classic country feel to it. The bass is the star instrument, subtly providing power and structure to a serious set of lyrics. It’s ultimately a song about perseverance and endurance in the midst of a long, difficult trial. The guitar work and vocals are excellent, too, making the song feel a lot more effortless than it was (no doubt).

“The Border” was the first song I heard from Lac La Belle and why I decided they were a “must-cover” artist. The musicianship is familiar and solid, but the lead female vocal by Jennie Knaggs that sustains the song is a real gem. There’s a careful balance between the harsh realities of the struggle of running the border and the promise of what lies on the other side. The lyric “…marks a line between a life that’s theirs and a life that’s mine” really seems to get at the point. It has a Tex-Mex flavor to it and I don’t think that’s an accident… the dreamy “come right in” bridge is a fantastic touch.

“Passing Arizona” begins as a simple acoustic guitar ballad. It’s intimate and sweet. The strings that come in to support the guitar really usher in another fantastic female lead vocal. “Why would you go to a place so remote no further from your fears?” Now that’s a line, right? What a phenomenal sentiment captured in a stunningly beautiful little track.

“Carry Me Under” has an excellent whimsical, meandering opening line. The lyrics match the feeling of the track beautifully. “Take all my memories, most of my dreams, a few of my lies and those things in between. Goin’ to bed early, Lord sleepin’ in. If I ever get rested, I’ll try it again.” Whew, there’s quite a thought for those of us living unnecessarily busy lives. The rest of the lyrics are equally powerful, requiring a moment to stop and reflect.

The following “Breezy Sunday” is a crawling, brooding sort of piece. It has minor chords, a strong bass line, and some strings that keep your hair on edge. It’s a little bit jazz, and a lot mysterious. This is one of the reasons that Lac La Belle is a fantastic Americana band. They can pull of a track like this just as easily as a traditional country jam. “Hard times, we all hit hard times.” It has the flavor of being the kind of song people might use to endure difficult situations. Images of storms and impending crisis is both about (I suppose) existential realities and, perhaps, a deeper spiritual dimension. I don’t know for sure and – on this track – I like not knowing.

The final track “St Michael (Day Star)” is a nicely-composed track that utilizes a lead guitar and backing strings in gorgeous balance. The lead male vocal by Nick Shillace sounds a bit weathered, reminding me of Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange). The line “the devil’s only right when he’s wrong” keyed me into something about this album – there’s a real desire to transcend the ordinary here. It’s not just about the surface level things that most Americana albums might cover. Rather, the artists appear to be trying to speak into more deep human questions about who we are and why we’re here on earth. In other words, they’re asking good questions and proposing some veiled but fascinating answers.

All told, this is an excellent album for a lot of reasons. The musical performances are themselves rewarding, but the powerful messages enmeshed in the compositions strike me as equally important. The album takes listeners on a sonic journey. This isn’t one I’d recommend for the commute to work or background for the dinner party. Rather, it’s the kind of sit-and-listen album that might encourage journaling or some other “seeker” behavior. Prepare to be unsettled, while relaxed by the music, to think about some of life’s harder questions.

For fans of: Pebaluna, Mandolin Orange, and most Americana

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