What do you want me to do, learn to stutter? –Sam Spade
As the guitar slide trembles in anticipation against the strings at the opening of Jailbreak, the opening track on Larkin Poe’s Kin, you tense on the edge of your seat. Then it begins. But what is it? iTunes categorises them under singer/songwriter, although their earlier, folkier EPs were filed under country. But thirty seconds into Jailbreak you’re not thinking folk, country, or singer/songwriter, nor Americana. You’re thinking, this sounds a bit like T-Rex, but with loads of other stuff mixed in. This sounds like roots rock and roll with a side order of swagger.
A very straightforward line-up, this: two guitars, bass, and drums. One of the guitars is an electric lap steel. The other is a Fender Jazzmaster. Lead singer and Jazzmaster mistress Rebecca Lovell has a sweet voice with a lot of range. Slide slinger Megan Lovell offers harmonies but occasionally takes the lead.
I’ve got all their earlier EPs, and they’re good, I like them. Sometimes they offer hints of what’s to come on Kin, but you don’t get the full turned-up-to-11 experience. You get nice harmonies, bit of mandolin, bit of dobro, and it all sounds good, but maybe a little polite. They sound like artists trying to fit in with an existing music category. Finding it a bit restricting and frustrating, maybe.
With Kin, they finally give themselves permission to be all that they are, to combine all the styles of music they have in their souls and to break a few fucking windows and smash down a few doors between categories. They decided to stop being polite. It reminds me of that line in The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is accused by Joel Cairo of always having a smooth explanation ready. “What do you want me to do?” says Spade. “Learn to stutter?” All of which is my way of saying, it’s as if on their earlier EPs they didn’t want to show their full hand, didn’t want to intimidate people.
So Jailbreak is great, and their live performances of it feature some extended guitar wig outs, but then the second track and lead single, Don’t comes on. A simple song made great by arrangement and performance, it has a proper early 70s backbeat and crunchy guitars, and here’s the thing. It starts brilliantly, builds to a mini climax, then breaks down only to build up again to a second, more ethereal breakdown, and then it smacks you in the face with its finish. All in three minutes and four seconds. A perfect pop song, in other words.
And the album then flows through so many musical moods and styles that you get whiplash, but in a good way. Always held together by their perfect voices, that shimmering or crunching Jazzmaster and the effortless slide guitar, the album holds together so well that it becomes great. Some mention should be made of their solid rhythm section (Robert Handley on bass and Marlon Patton on drums). You can hear the aforementioned T-Rex, old blues, Fleetwood Mac, The Band, Led Zep, The Eagles: a whole jukebox of influences. Crown of Fire, Elephant, High Horse, Sugar High, Jesse: all sound different, all sound like they belong on this album. I love their visual style too: the album cover is a strong image, and their YouTube channel is a cornucopia of fun cover versions performed in showers, hotel rooms, trailers, basements, anywhere the mood takes them.