A lioness of a Laby Lamb
The powerful debut: Ripely Pine
The delivery is primal, shouted: “I’m as blue as blood before the blood goes red.” It is just one more reminder late in Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s debut proper album, Ripely Pine, that she is no meek Lamb to be led around, but rather Queen Bee, very much a force of nature. If you’ve even glanced at Aly Spaltro’s photo (she’s the band, all by herself or otherwise), or seen her five-foot-nothing figure out in public, you know as soon as you hear the opening “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” that she summons her arresting voice from someplace seemingly outside herself, like her spirit is wearing a body three sizes too small.
The first bars simmer, moody with a spare electric guitar that will come to seem like Lady Lamb’s fifth limb, and her voice has no huskiness that might indicate even an extra effort to get so low. “Love is selfish,” she leers, “love goes tick tock tick / And love knows Jesus / Apples and oranges.” What the fuck that means I don’t really care because the care with which she lets each word drop is exacting, like she’s mulling them over, unsure about them, wanting to view them from every angle, inside and out.
Spaltrow does this throughout album, sometimes seeming to actually move in with certain phrases, living with them for months before setting them free.
But then, after just a hint of clicking static, late enough in a long song that you’ve forgotten it might happen, there is a full rock entrance: “It’s a zoo in your room … and you long to kiss like you won’t exist come the morningtime.” The drums come in rapid-fire bursts and then there is a muscular and grungey distorted guitar solo before we’re alternately caressed and slapped by a cappella vocals and staccato bursts of guitar.
From that point forward, you’re on notice to be on your toes. In songs that sprawl more than half the time out past five minutes, sometimes building in chambers of backing strings and horns, Lady Lamb will take you wherever her muse leads and it’s nigh impossible not to follow.
“Rooftop” is the “single,” released first to the public as though for a radio station that doesn’t exist, a compact three minutes. It’s probably the catchiest out of the gate, with a quick snare keeping things lively and an indie-rock plinking of notes moving up and down the fretboard as a central message. But so too are there trombones that bleed in, just a scratch of high-up fiddle, then a full on string section laying a backing bed, even clanking pots and pans for God’s sake, so much going on that it’s nearly overwhelming.
Overwhelming is Spaltro’s stock and trade. Hearing her live, even if only on the Live at Brighton Music Hall album that was just kind of given life and let wander on the Internet last year, you’ll find she may be even more strident and invested than she is here in the studio, taking a song like “Aubergine” and burying her face in it, sinking her teeth to the gums.
Somehow, there’s a bass like a dance track, an old-school soul delivery with energy like Spaltro’s unhinged. Seriously. Listen to the mocking “ha, ha, ha, ha” that helps close the truly rocking “Bird Balloons,” which is otherwise like 6gig with rounded edges, plus a hip-hop bravado: “I’m a ghost and you all know it / I’m singing songs and I ain’t slowin’.” And is that Dr. Dre programming the strings after the tempo change into a strut?
But we’re talking unhinged. How about “I still need your teeth in my organs” as a repeated lament? It’s what drives “You Are the Apple,” a jazz-punk tune that features a sneaky three-note guitar riff and stalker vamp. She’s magnesium on fire, but you never want to look away.
After years of living only with her first demos done in a home set-up, the amount of volume and body Brooklyn-based producer Nadim Issa delivers from such sparse arrangements (all done by Spaltro) is just so satisfying. It’s every bit an artist coming into her own. To see this executed with a full band – to reportedly include bass, drums, trumpets, trombone, violins, viola, cello, tuba, clarinet, keyboards, autoharp, and a choir (maybe not all at once) – would be pretty special, indeed.
Often enough, though, Spaltro proves she doesn’t need much accompaniment at all. “Regarding the Ascending Stairs” is a banjo tune like Abigail Washburn’s sorta-goth sister, where you can hear her walk in, sit down, and begin to play, and the sentiment is like this: “You handle me like an infant skull / And I cradle you like a newborn nightmare.”
After a whole song’s worth of patience, a playful electric bass line pops in, along with a tambourine. It fades and comes back even better, integrated with the banjo plucking so that they bounce off each other like helium atoms in a balloon.
How was this woman only 23 when she made this? Her feel for dynamics, depth of feeling, and general grace are pretty special. To think that this is just the beginning? That’s fairly exciting.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez