Occasionally you come across an album where the music springs from the speakers in a rush of invention and joie de vivre so palpable you have no choice but to sit back and surrender. It’s a fine line between sugar highs and sustainable pleasure – Ionia doesn’t so much walk that line as dance along it with little care for the drop below – there’s a strong sense of conviction within these grooves that ensures a healthy balance is maintained. This is partly down to a live recording, the band huddled around microphones over four intense days, partly a crisp production that allows the listener equal reference to the array of traditional instruments employed, but mostly, as you would expect with all good albums, it’s about the songs. There’s plenty to be shiny and happy about here.
Hot Hands sounds like a freshly wound Swiss clock moving sprightly towards Noon, plucked mandolin and banjo counting down the seconds to a nicely harmonised chorus. The arrangement errs towards modern pop and rock, with start and stop chords and a bridge that allows Lindsay Lou to emote in a soulful way over the top.
Quite an opener, it’s followed closely by a toe-tapping Everything Changed with a ‘woo-ooo’ refrain and increasing sense of urgency and resolution built on two separate instrumental sections where the mandolin and guitar spar in complimentary space. Interlude rises and falls on sombre double bass and gives way quickly to The Fix, similar in structure to Everything Changed – Lindsay Lou works her considerable range across this one, the room’s natural reverb acting as a fifth band member on her voice.
Having set their musical chops out, the band range across styles and sounds for the rest of the album. Old Song would have been a massive hit for the Dixie Chicks circa Wide Open Spaces, the Country edge of the chorus claiming corners of your mind for its own within the first listen. Aside from Hot Hands, the album’s key song is The River Jordan. Dappled in Autumnal hues from the opening guitar riff, graced with Lindsay Lou’s lower register and some sparkling harmonies, the song floats downstream on its way to the equally lovely Here Between. Prior to those the tongue-in-cheek of Criminal Style is jug band for 2015, lurching woozily to the bar for a refill. Its cod-Blues prepares the way for the sassy jazz coated closer Smooth And Groovy, which unwinds in a guttural vocal and widescreen double bass.
There are risks in embracing an expansive set like this, in approaching your music with the sangfroid of the accomplished musician; not everyone gets off on clever, but Lindsay and the Flatbellys make Ionia sound like a regular Saturday night down at the bar. Same again, barman.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Released March 14th 2015
Lindsay Lou and The Flatbellys will be touring Scotland in May:
Tues May 5: An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Wed May 6: An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Thurs May 7: Acoustic Music Club, Kirkcaldy
Fri May 8: Tradfest, Edinburgh
Sat May 9: Performing Arts Centre, Kilbarchan
Sun May 10: Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine
Also performing at Shetland Folk Festival on April 30th and HebCelt Fest 15-18 July 2015.