A wolf in sheep’s clothing
So, what’ve we got? A collection of songs written by a female teenage American with an acoustic guitar and a banjo. Immediately you’re assuming it’s a real folk tinged, Joni/Joan Baez influenced thing. Right? Uh-uh. Think again.
For the uninitiated, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is the stage name of American singer/songwriter, Aly Spaltro and, astonishingly, Ripely Pine was her debut. Despite her youth, it is a remarkably mature album, both in production terms and storytelling. These hard-bitten songs sound like they should have been written by someone at least forty years older.
And yeah, it is a little folksy in parts. But it’s much more than that. This is comfortably in indie-rock territory, with a grunge-y pinch and a healthy dollop of the blues. It’s that grittier edge that allows Spaltro to expose herself absolutely to the listening audience. There are no holds barred here, she is hurting and she is gonna damn well make sure that you know it.
For me, one of the most interesting things about the album is the song lengths, with the majority (indeed, the very best tracks) all lasting between six and seven minutes. It makes for a single album of more than an hour, which seems excessive – but it doesn’t seem that way on listening.
One of the reasons that it feels compelling throughout is the structure of the songs themselves. They are always shifting and morphing, meandering and weaving, transitioning from acoustic mellowness to downright hardcore electrifying aggression within a beat.
You are the Apple is the perfect example. Starting with a nice swing and a jazzy back beat, it transmogrifies after a couple of minutes into a her pleading voice accompanied only by a strummed guitar, before launching into a frenzied conclusion where she assures us that “I still need your teeth round my organ”. I’m assuming she’s not talking about her Hammond.
But the highlight is undoubtedly Bird Balloons. Her angst is never more evident than it is on these six and a half minutes. This incendiary tale of betrayal reaches its crescendo as she screams, “My hair grew long and I fucking cut it and when you looked away I stuck the trimmings in your locket.” Don’t mess with Aly is clearly the message.
Overall, it’s a really mature, well formed album that is engaging and surprising throughout. To be honest, I’m very surprised that her career hasn’t rocketed following Ripely Pine. But this Lady has still got plenty time on her side.