In what has admittedly been a mostly failed effort to cover more bluegrass, there is no discovery that has excited me more than the accidental one of Flatt Lonesome. My knowledge of them comes directly as a result of the cool connections I have made from doing this, as Alex Grant of Critically Country requested them on Zack Kephart’s radio show. It was their cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re the One” that I heard that day, and I can honestly say I am not sure I have been as excited about anything I’ve heard this year as I was about that song. It was the warm instrumentation, the ridiculous harmonies, the emotion in the vocals, just everything. I was just impressed, and I was really looking forward to this album and a chance to introduce them to more people. And now that I’ve heard it? It’s not perfect, but you should damn well check out Flatt Lonesome.
I mentioned the harmonies, and they continue to blow me away on this record. “All my Life” and “It’s Just Sad,” the album’s first two tracks, make the strongest moment and showcase their harmonies to the greatest effect. “It’s Just Sad” is a wonderfully written heartbreak song which counters the notion that bluegrass is primarily focused on instrumentation. The details here like how the narrator plays records that remind her of her lover, and half of her still loves them, but the other half can’t stand to listen, really make this song come alive. It’s also unclear whether she was left or widowed, and this makes the song even better, as you can see both sides to the narrative. Kelsi Robertson Harrigill has a vocal tone similar to that of Sara Evans coupled with an uncanny ability to draw feeling and emotion out of every syllable.
After this and the wistful “All my Life,” it is nice to hear something lively and upbeat like “Build me a Bridge,” and the band can pull this style off well too. It’s hard not to hear a song like the closer, “You’re the Reason,” and not smile or get it stuck in your head. But that’s also the beauty of this band; while they can pull off the lively instrumentation almost expected in bluegrass, they also have the songwriting and the vocal ability to go with it. Bluegrass is such a restrictive genre that in order to separate yourself from the sameness often associated with it, you have to add something unique, and Flatt Lonesome certainly do that, both in their careful attention to melodies and harmonies and in the depth of their songwriting.
And I can’t underestimate the value in the sheer vocal ability of this group, as well as the chemistry in the harmonies. They take songs that might seem rather average on paper and put an unforgettable stamp on them. Take a song like the simple love ballad “Falling,” for instance. In the hands of most other bands, this song is probably just boring, but with the excellent harmonies and heartfelt sincerity in the simple words, Flatt Lonesome make it an understated standout of the record.
That’s not to say this album doesn’t have its flaws, and as often happens, some of its strengths also are weaknesses at times. Although Flatt Lonesome is a group best at slow-burning, serious songs, the songwriting has to match, and this does drop off a little in the middle of the album, thereby making that part a little sleepy. Just one more upbeat, fun break probably would have helped this a great deal. “Draw me Near,” though certainly beautiful and showing off all those great harmonies, just simply didn’t need to go on that long. I have listened to this numerous times, and I still can barely remember “Where do You Go,” so I would have been happy if they’d just left that off altogether.
But really, I don’t have any major complaints, and it’s one of those albums that balances out to be consistent, although unlike say, Midland’s which was solid all the way through, this one has some real shining moments and some forgettable stuff. Still, the result is somewhat the same in that it doesn’t give me a whole lot to say; it’s a simple record, and a good one, and one that’s being underrated and overlooked by too many people. Part of why it might not have gotten as much attention is obviously because it’s bluegrass, but another part may have to do with the fact that there’s really not a lot to say, and it’s kind of hard to write about. But it’s not worth overlooking them because this band is one of the brightest spots in bluegrass music right now, and if you’re like me–as in pretty much woefully ignorant of that genre and trying to become better informed–Flatt Lonesome should be right at the top of your list. I think they have tremendous potential, and this album is another nice addition to their discography. If you’ve got any interest at all in getting more familiar with bluegrass, Flatt Lonesome is most certainly a great place to begin.