While they’re marketed as a roots ensemble and a string band, Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys have a seriously jazzy vibe to them. They play mandolins, dobros, stand-up bass, steel guitar, and take those instruments to an interesting place: playing them percussively, angularly, expressionistically. Lead vocalist Lindsay Lou’s voice isn’t a rootsy voice, either. There’s a dusky richness to her voice, and her slides from chest voice to upper register are elegant though she makes it sound incredibly easy.
Recorded in four days, Ionia is not the kind of album that falls neatly under one umbrella. The opener, “Hot Hands,” is a jazz/funk outing with a curious Oriental feeling to the melody line. Joshua Rilko’s mandolin lays down a tight rhythm on a song that, while there’s a lot going on in it, feels remarkably spare.
The mellow harmonies of “Everything Changes” are offset by a killer mandolin line and stringed instruments used as percussion. “The Fix” begins jauntily with Lindsay Lou’s rapid-fire delivery of lyrics and decelerates to a dream-like swoon of harmonies. The multi-decade spanning romance of “Old Song” is sweet and warm and so very hushed.
“Sometimes,” sung by dobro player Mark Lavengood in a voice reminiscent of a character in a 1930s gangster film (his delivery is incredibly engaging), is languid and driven by PJ George’s stand-up bass. A cheery mandolin line runs underneath to add color. “Criminal Style” swings along leisurely with witty lyrics and fine dobro playing from Lavengood.
The acoustic guitar melody of “Here Between” gets usurped by a mandolin solo, while the guitar mimics Lindsay Lou’s vocal style, and the result is quite lovely. Her unforced, unpretentious vocals are a highlight. “Smooth And Groovy” is a showcase for Lindsay Lou’s voice; it’s a lowdown marriage of jazz and blues with a hint of country tossed in for flavor. It sounds improvised and easy. “House Together” feels like a Jack Johnson song—a laid back portrait of warm domesticity. Lou really lets go in the back half of the song, elevating it.
Ionia has a spirit and warmth to it that is hard to fake. The musicianship is exceptional—these are excellent players. Lindsay Lou has a singular, versatile voice. Together, they’ve made a joyful, impressive album that sounds like nothing else.