You know how female country singers have often done “answer songs” that respond to the misogyny and sexism of hits by male country singers? The best known is “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” by Kitty Wells, which was responding to Hank Thompson’s hit “The Wild Side Of Life.” Well, the song “Blue” by Locust Honey strikes me as something similar. It sounds like it could’ve been sung by Wells or Rose Maddox, perhaps, as a response to any of a number of old Jimmie Rodgers songs about rambling around the country and missing his woman back home.
“Blue” is situated smack in the middle of the 11 tracks on the new release by Locust Honey The Low and Low. The Nashville-based Locust Honey is Chloe Edmonstone and Meredith Watson, and it’s their third release together. Their first two were under a longer monicker, Locust Honey String Band, and the name change is instructive. Although they continue to play fiddle (Chloe), banjo (Meredith) and acoustic guitars (both), their music is now stretching beyond the confines of stringband tunes and they’re frequently accompanied by pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, and drums in addition to upright bass. And although the music remains based in Appalachian forms, it takes determined steps in the direction of classic country, rockabilly, and swampy Southern Gothic. Oh, and Hawaiian-inspired country blues, as in “Blue.”
Meredith sings lead on it, and although she never quite slips into a yodel, she seems to come close on this languid tale of woe for a love that’s over.
The two swap lead vocal duties from one track to the next. Meredith also takes the lead on the similarly blue “Making Plans,” another sad tale of love going two different directions. This one’s a gentle shuffle with lots of reverb occasionally applied to her vocals, with whining pedal steel and a percolating organ behind the guitar and fiddle. Her “Ablution” has both piano and organ with lots of heavy reverb for a swampy mysterious sound that matches the darkly cryptic lyrics of youthful transgression and lifelong repercussions. “Gold And Bones” is laden with echoes of old Celtic ballads.
Chloe makes the most of her slightly deeper alto voice on songs like the opening track “40 Miles,” the dark ballad of a young woman who leaves home to find herself, and learns some hard lessons. “New Friend” has a bluegrass feel to it with high harmonies and archaic-style lyric turns, some doom-laden percussion and very Appalachian fiddling, and slap-back style vocal reverb. “He Caught Me” is a bit creepy. This one lyrically sounds like a very old-time ballad with talk of star-crosed lovers and spells, delivered in eerie close harmonies. She also has a bit of fun on the nostalgic Beach Boys-style shuffler “Remember When,” with lots of soaring harmonies and a chiming rock-style guitar plus organ accompaniment.
Both Chloe and Meredith are involved in other artistic endeavors including dance, particularly Meredith who founded the Nashville School of Traditional Country Music. A couple of these tracks incorporate Appalachian-style clogging, or at least its rhythms: Meredith’s “Driver Boy” (whose lyrics provide the album’s title) is a dark, sexy tale of illicit love, its mood accentuated by the production. It’s got bluegrass-style banjo and guitar picking, fiddle and high harmonies, and percussion that mimicks the rhythm of step-dancing. And the closing track, the instrumental “Chloe’s Breakdown,” sounds like a really old-style Appalachian fiddle tune with actual clogging providing the percussion.
Their previous release, the more old-timey Never Let Me Cross Your Mind from 2014 remains on frequent rotation at my house. But The Low and Low seems like a step in the right direction for these talented musicians and artists, into a more durable and flexible style that allows them to keep one foot in tradition and the other in the more modern Americana camp. They’re on tour this summer. Details on their website.