Dehlia Low, favorites of the Asheville area roots music scene since their formation in 2007, are anything but a traditional bluegrass band. They don’t even include the banjo. Yet Dehlia Low combines mountain-inflected vocals and bluegrass harmonies with more modern picking style into music that successfully crosses genre boundaries without losing touch with their bluegrass roots. Their original lyrics, while generally dealing with modern, lost love themes, reflects the style of traditional folk-song. Especially on the first three tracks, the quintet produces an original sound that fits with traditional bluegrass.
The lead off track, “State Of Jefferson,” one of five strong songs by fiddler Anya Hinkle, comes across unmistakably as bluegrass even without the five-string. Aaron Ballance’s resonator guitar fills the musical void quite well and keeps the band at just one instrumentalist playing rolls. Her lyrics, however, deal with running away to California at age 17. As much as the title track, “Going Down” (also composed by Hinkle) demonstrates the band’s bluegrass vocal chops as well as her ability to write new lyrics that sound ancient: That man I found/Don’t you know that man I found/Gives me sugar and honey by the pound/Took me downtown/Bought me a white wedding gown/That man I found/Gives me sugar and honey by the pound.
Hinkle from Blacksburg, Va., and guitarist Stacy Claude, originally from Atlanta, Ga., assembled Dehlia Low with musicians from around the South East: bassman Greg Stiglets from Mississippi, Ballance from Winston-Salem, and West Virginia mandolinist Bryan Clendenin. All but Balance sing. Stiglets provides four songs, confidently kicking off “Thunder” with lyrics audacious for the roots music world even in 2011: Listen up here boys, it’s gonna be hell to find a savior/When I’ve used up all the favors/That I had with my lord/Voices comin here will take me under/I know prayin used to help, but Lord, God I’m starting to wonder
Stiglets’ denser lyrics carry Dehlia Low more in an Americana direction than do Hinkle’s songs, without ever losing the band’s distinctive sound nor its traditional feel. After kicking off the band with an uptempo bluegrass track, the five finish the compact disc with a serious reading of the “Cannonball Blues,” the Carter Family’s adaptation of “White House Blues.”
Ravens & Crows proves a breakthrough in the first outing on Rebel Records, fulfilling the promise suggested on their self-titled debut EP, a live album, and especially last year’s full length studio project, Tellico. Unlike most young ensembles with this abundance of talent and versatility, Dehlia Low maintains a consistent band sound from one style to the next. All dozen tracks sound like the same powerful band. That is a significant accomplishment, showcased beautifully on Ravens & Crows, produced by the Infamous Stringdusters’ Travis Book. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.) AM