Larkin Poe: ‘The Little Sisters Of The Allman Brothers’
Larkin Poe are one of the most interesting bands in the modern blues scene. In their own words, they’ve created a ‘brand of Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll: gritty, soulful, and flavoured by their southern heritage’. They are unlike any band in the world of contemporary blues.
Fronted by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, Larkin Poe were formed in 2010. As children, the Lovell sisters were classically trained in the violin. Some years later, when the sisters were in their early teens, they attended a Bluegrass festival with their older sister and became hooked. They quickly moved away from their classical background and started the ‘Lovell Sisters Band’ – an acoustic trio that featured the 3 sisters playing the violin, mandolin and lap steel.
A couple of years later, The Lovell Sisters appeared on a popular southern radio show called ‘A Prairie Home Companion’. The show had millions of listeners, and hosted a ‘National Teen Talent Competition’, which the Lovell Sisters ended up winning.
A tour and promotion was quick to follow, and the Lovell Sisters gained a solid fan base thanks to their impressive vocal harmonies and live performances. At this stage still just teenagers, The Lovell Sisters disbanded in 2009, when oldest sister Jessica decided to leave the music industry pursue a more traditional career path instead.
Larkin Poe: ‘The Sister Act With Staying Power’
Shortly afterwards, Rebecca and Megan Lovell started Larkin Poe, a band named after their distant relation to writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe. Nicknamed ‘The Little Sisters of the Allman Brothers’, Larkin Poe are a roots rock band, that fuses elements of the blues with gospel, folk and even pop music.
Both Rebecca and Megan Lovell are multi-instrumentalists. The former plays the guitar, mandolin and the piano, whilst the latter plays lapsteel and dobro. This in itself is a refreshing twist on the typical blues line up. Very few blues and rock bands include instruments outside of the piano (and possibly a horn or brass section) in their line up. And in the history of the blues, there are comparatively few competent slide guitarists.
That this is the case remains a mystery to me. Slide guitar is such a key part of blues, and it opens up a whole range of tonal possibilities that the guitar does not normally offer. It has a vocal quality and is a very expressive form of guitar playing that is perfect for the blues. Megan Lovell is an amazing slide guitarist, and her slide playing gives Larkin Poe’s music a dark, haunting sound at times. It also helps maintain the blues feeling in those songs that Larkin Poe fuse more heavily with modern genres like pop and hip hop.
Musically, this is what makes Larkin Poe so interesting. Not only do they successfully fuse the blues with these different genres, but they do so with total authenticity. As the writers of Vogue so succinctly put it: “Larkin Poe are not only highly professional, nearly perfect musicians, they also manage to add a new passion, modernity, and elegant coolness to the genre of Rock.’
Son House, Sexism & Social Media
Through hard work, grit and a bit of fortunate timing, success came for Larkin Poe following a couple of big breaks.
The first of these was at a Bluegrass festival that Elvis Costello was headlining. On the final evening of the festival, Larkin Poe found themselves singing backing vocals for Costello. They quickly became friends and went on to be Costello’s support act for a number of tours.
Later, the duo released a series of videos called ‘Tip o’ The Hat‘, which featured covers of their favourite songs and artists. Their version of Son Houses’ ‘Preachin’ Blues‘ went viral and ended up on the Facebook page of Bob Seger’s wife. Seger invited Larkin Poe out on tour as a result.
Yet success hasn’t been without its challenges for Larkin Poe. The blues is a genre totally dominated by men. Ever since the early 20th Century, the bluesman has been a central figure in the blues. He is a character who can be found in every sub-genre of the blues. He is preoccupied by sex and spends most of his time either singing about the hordes of sexually adventurous women he is entertaining, or the devilish women cheating on him and making his life a misery.
In short, the bluesman has made the blues a difficult place for women to exist on equal terms. As a result, in the history of the blues there are very few women and almost no prominent female guitarists.
Larkin Poe are set to change that.
This is one of my favourite things about the band. They have taken the themes of blues and subverted them, telling the blues from a female perspective. In doing so, they are empowering women and inspiring the next generation of female blues musicians.
Larkin Poe – The Top Songs
Since 2014, Larkin Poe have been creating and releasing music at a relentless pace. With four studio albums, they already have a wealth of material you can get stuck into. Their two most recent albums – Peach and Venom & Faith (both of which are self-produced) are brilliant, and have become staples on my blues playlist. The albums showcase the combination of Larkin Poe’s skill and precision from their classical training, with the raw power and emotion of the blues and roots music that inspired them. Some of the standout songs from all of these albums that you need to add to your blues playlist are as follows:
This song is a perfect example of the way that Larkin Poe subvert the common themes of the blues and put a twist on them. It also showcases their unique percussive style – adding hand claps, foot stomps and clanking chains to build a strong sense of rhythm. The repetitive, chugging acoustic guitar riff is one of the best on the album.
Sometimes was a song written in honour of folk, blues and gospel singer Bessie Jones. As the band themselves said of Jones: ‘Her 1960 recording of the song is powerful, raw, and – except for a few sparse hand claps – completely a cappella. We were transfixed and had to create a Larkin Poe rendition.’ By adding new lyrics and a horn section, the song illustrates the tasteful way that the duo pay tribute to the blues greats, whilst putting their own stamp on the genre.
This is a beautiful song that fully illustrates the expressive nature of slide guitar playing. The song is totally stripped back, the only accompaniment to the vocal melody being Megan’s slide guitar playing. The guitar mimics and harmonises with Rebecca’s mournful singing perfectly. It is a simple but brilliantly expressive piece of music.
This is one of my favourite songs from Peach. The repetitive slide guitar riff is haunting, and the song again features the raw percussive techniques that characterise so many of Larkin Poe’s songs. The introduction of the organ gives the song a gospel feel, and the beautiful outro slide guitar solo is one of the best guitar solos on the album.
This was the first song I heard from Venom & Faith. It is arguably one of the less bluesy songs on the album, but it remains one of my favourites. The backing is sparse and restrained, whilst the vocals are full of emotion. These become increasingly intense as the song progresses to it’s powerful conclusion.
Following the popularity of their Youtube cover of Son Houses’ ‘Preaching The Blues‘, Larkin Poe added the song to their album Peach. It features a brilliant slide guitar solo from Megan, and showcases the duo’s instrumental talents, with Rebecca playing the song on a banjo!
This is one of the more traditional blues songs on the album. It is a song that pays homage to the Mississippi Delta; the birthplace of the blues. Larkin Poe have teamed up with Tyler Bryant, another of my favourite modern blues guitarists. Bryant plays dobro slide guitar on the track and he and Megan trade licks in the classic call and response style of the blues. The quality of the playing from both guitarists is brilliant.
The Delta Blues has had a profound influence on Larkin Poe – with cover versions of both Robert Johnson and Son House songs featuring on their album Peach. Their stripped back version of John The Revelator stays true to the original and captures the raw power that makes the song so hypnotising.
That’s it for today. I hope this has given you some new songs for your playlist and you enjoy listening to Larkin Poe as much as I do. If you want to listen further and find out more, then check out the links below:
Who are your favourite modern blues guitarists and bands? Let me know in the comments!