Lady Lamb – After

Aly Spaltro is a master of the bait and switch. Except in her case that’s a positive – Spaltro casts her line with something good, then quickly swaps it out for something even better.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s excellent 2013 debut Ripely Pine opened with Spaltro doing a convincing Sharon Van Etten impersonation, only to erupt after 90 seconds into a wholly different kettle of fish. On the new After Lady Lamb extends its masquerade for nearly a song and a half, delivering a solid facsimile of crunchy early ’90s guitar rock. Then at the bridge of “Billions of Eyes,” just as I’m growing concerned she’s sanded off too many rough edges in search of a broader audience, Spaltro unleashes a shaggy dog story that starts off with her sharing a conspiratorial moment with strangers on a train and winds up with her great grand-aunt’s body being exhumed and transported to the Vatican. Its rhyme-free cadence fits perfectly with the upbeat rhythm and connects as charming rather than self-consciously quirky. On the ensuing “Violet Clementine” Spaltro fully unfurls her freak flag, weaving banjo with an orchestral horn section and a dub bassline to create a tautly unorthodox arrangement that’s uniquely Lady Lamb.

If After has a home base it resides in that ’90s alt-rock vibe, but Spaltro remains as unfettered by genre as she did on Ripely Pine. The Maine native has again recorded with Brooklyn engineer Nadim Issa and while After hints at a looser production budget, it’s lost none of its predecessor’s homespun charm. Spaltro’s lyrics read somewhere between poetry and short stories, recalling the elliptical literary muse of Tori Amos or Suzanne Vega without sounding like either of them musically (well, maybe Vega a bit, vocally). After’s tales are informed by travel – trains make multiple appearances, as does a plane and numerous cities and states – and that time on the road may explain why the now more concisely named Lady Lamb had to abandon her hives.

Somehow, Lady Lamb soars highest when at its most ambitious. A case in point is “Penny Licks,” which plays like a five-minute pocket symphony with three proper movements rather than unrelated musical ideas grafted together. Spaltro begins by declaring, “We can’t seem to find a stable table, so we’ll just take our eggs and be on our way,” the most evocative imagery I’ve heard this year, and closes by insisting, “We will crane our necks/ We do not wish to start a family.”

Some of the best records are the product of a singular vision, unmistakable for the work of any other artist. File After firmly in that category – even without the beekeeping, Lady Lamb is plenty buzzworthy.

Lady Lamb
[Mom + Pop]