The bluegrass world was turned on its ears last January following the debut album of a bunch of young people from Florida. Flatt Lonesome won SPBGMA’s band competition in 2012, and nabbed a nomination for IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year in 2013, an impressive feat for a band merely eight months away from their debut album.
Flatt Lonesome caught everyone’s attention because they were a young band playing bluegrass! They weren’t trying to play Americana music or newgrass or acoustic country, they were playing bluegrass with a youthful exuberance that demanded you to sit up and pay attention.
Their debut album was heavily played on bluegrass radio stations across the country, and even garnered the band several hits on the charts. Few newcomers have had as successful a debut album as these youngsters.
And that brings us to the tricky sophomore album.
In sports, year two is often referred to as the “sophomore slump.” Few stars can recapture the charm and pizzazz of their first outing, leading to a subpar product and overall disappointment. The “sophomore slump” is often true in music as well.
Young bands often fall into these two traps with their second release. 1- Ignoring the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they take way too many creative liberties on their second effort, leaving their newfound fans scratching their heads. 2- They prove the critics right, delivering an overall lackluster effort, causing questions of whether their successful premiere was a fluke.
I say that to say this: Flatt Lonesome avoided both of these common pitfalls. If you can believe it, their sophomore album may be even stronger! Building on the success of their first release, Flatt Lonesome’s Too will not leave listeners disappointed.
Too kicks off with a Randall Hylton tune, So Far. Randall was one of our music’s best songwriters, having written such greats as Gonna Be Movin’, Slippers With Wings, Rough Edges, Room At The Top Of The Stairs, and more. So Far is super grassy, with soaring harmonies and great picking. Charli Robertson shows off her powerhouse voice with Paul Harrigill’s angry banjo reaching through the speaker and grabbing your attention. With this opening track, Flatt Lonesome makes a statement that their second album is going to be just as good as their first.
The album features another Randall Hylton song, Slowly Getting You Out Of The Way. One of the album’s most traditional songs, Buddy Robertson leads the charge. He is quickly becoming a vocal stylist, developing his own hallmark way of phrasing which appeals to fans both young and old. Buddy’s guitar playing is equally impressive, not just on this track, but throughout Too.
>Too features several band originals. One of my favorites is the Texas-flavored Never Let Me Go. Written by mandolinist Kelsi Robertson Harrigill, the song sounds as if it could have been borrowed from Cindy Walker or Asleep At The Wheel. Kelsi and sister, Charli, deliver tight Quebe-esque harmony. Michael Stockton’s bluesy dobro helps gets this song swingin’, and Dominic Illingworth’s bass keeps things moving right along. Dominic’s playing on this song is one of its most glowing elements. He’s trying his darndest to sound like one of Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys, and I love it! As a big fan of western swing, this is one of my favorites on the album. Bluegrass used to be filled with artists drawing on western inspiration, but somehow that has faded away. Never Let Me Go will make you wonder why.
I’m Ready Now, written by Paul Harrigill, is one of two Gospel tracks on the album. This is a good ole get-up-and-go Gospel song about looking forward to the Promised Land. I’m Ready Now is blazing fast and is likely to be a show-stopper. On the flip side, Too‘s second gospel song, He Still Hears is slower and more reflective. This powerful song, written by Buddy, Charli, and Kelsi’s father, Pastor Dolton Robertson, is sure to be a blessing to you. Kelsi sings lead on both of these songs, showcasing her vocal versatility. Between the Robertson family’s Gospel roots and this pair of stellar tracks, one hopes that an all-Gospel project is on the horizon.
It’s no secret that Flatt Lonesome are country music fans. Their debut featured songs originally recorded by Lee Ann Womack, Johnny Cash & June Carter, and Little Big Town. Too features some songs from the country world as well, although you’d never know it from the bluegrass makeovers given them by the band.
Originally a Miranda Lambert song, I Can’t Be Bothered is a catchy little song that is sure to be climbing up the charts soon. Charli’s emotional delivery matched with the song’s addictive melody is a powerful combination.
Digging into the catalog of the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb’s Letters Have No Arms showcases Flatt Lonesome’s powerful trio all throughout. There is no harmony like family harmony, and the Robertson siblings are no exceptions.
The band closes Too with an out-of-the-box song from an unlikely source. A Grammy-award winning song from the Eagles’ 2007 country record, How Long is a star on this album. Referencing bluebirds, trains, prison, and bloodhounds, the song is littered with lonesome. Buddy really lets loose on this one, the album’s bluesiest track. It’s one of his finest vocal performances. How Long is one of the most well-arranged songs I’ve ever heard in bluegrass. It is a constant ebb and flow between the music and the vocals. There is so much going on, but it never feels busy or cluttered; it just sounds cool! If you can’t have fun while listening to this one, then you must hate puppies and Disneyworld.
Flatt Lonesome is just the sort of band bluegrass needs right now. They’re well-schooled in bluegrass tradition, but their youth leads them to be open to new possibilities. They are making great original bluegrass, and it’s some of the freshest our genre has been offered in a while. Their harmonies are some of the best in the business. Matched with their instrumental prowess, Flatt Lonesome is quickly becoming a bluegrass tour-de-force. Most importantly though, their music comes from the heart. They have found their own voice in the bluegrass community, and it is a voice causing young people to think actual bluegrass is cool again. I don’t know about you, but I think that is a message worth supporting.