Since Flatt Lonesome won the band competition at the 2012 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America conference, this sextet has been making a lot of noise. A lot of beautiful noise.
And that beautiful noise continues with the self-titled debut release on the Pisgah Ridge label. The CD, like the band itself, is built around the tight sister-and-brother harmonies of Charli Robertson, Buddy Robertson and Kelsi Robertson Harrigill. Think the Dixie Chicks with a guy in the vocal mix and you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect.
All three of these siblings can sing lead, which provides some nice change-of-pace moments on this 11-song set that includes a couple of bluegrass standards, some country-tinged covers and a smattering of their own compositions. These “kids” (relatively speaking, compared to your approaching-geezerhood reviewer) are good, and they’re going to be terrific if the pressures of making a living and raising families don’t get in the way.
Flatt Lonesome is at its best on this record when the songs are up-tempo and when Buddy sings the lead. His voice sounds older than his years, with a bit of gruffness around the edges that adds a touch of believable reality to the story he’s singing. He’s at his best on Just Any Moment, a Gospel song written by Kelsi and on Draggin’ My Heart Around, a Paul Kennerly/Marty Stuart gem about lost love.
That’s not to say that Kelsi and Charli are slouches in the vocal department. Far from it.
Charli is memorable on a remake of Julie and Buddy Miller’s Does Your Ring Burn My Finger and on I’d Miss You from the pen of the late Harley Allen. (Yes, Harley, we do miss you.) And Kelsi gets the project off to a strong start with Hazel Dickens’ You’ll Get No More of Me.
But there are a few songs here where the pure beauty of the vocals and the technical proficiency of the picking are actually too smooth for the emotion the song is trying to convey. That’s a great flaw to have, mind you, because it’ll be a lot easier down the road for these talented musicians to inject more emotion and a little more drive into their songs than it would be for someone who genuinely knows lonely and weary, but doesn’t play well to suddenly become a super picker.
That’s a minor nit, to be sure. Flatt Lonesome’s debut is delightful, and it offers a lot of hints of what’s yet to come as the band continues to grow. Michael Stockton’s work on the resophonic guitar and Paul Harrigill’s banjo picking alone would make this a fun listen, but all of the players (Kelsi on mandolin, Charli on fiddle, Buddy on guitar and Dominic Illingsworth on the upright bass) are well above average.
Keep an ear on Flatt Lonesome. You’ll be hearing a lot more from these rookies down the road.