Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

Now that we’re done feting the best of 2012, allow me to introduce the first great album of 2013. Better yet, it arrives courtesy of a fresh new voice. Aly Spaltro is a Maine native with the unfortunate pseudonym Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – a name that’s induced cringes from everyone to whom I’ve gushed about this debut. Look past the wrapper, however, and you’ll find a bursting-at-the-seams talent.

While you’re at it, withhold judgment for the first two minutes of Ripely Pine. “Hair To the Ferris Wheel” opens at a moody saunter, like a sultry Sharon Van Etten track – perfectly fine, although Ms. Van Etten already has that turf covered quite nicely. Then the guitars crackle, and the song erupts into a Wedding Present rave-up with Spaltro shouting about lust and devotion. Several of these twelve tracks take similar twists and turns, as if Spaltro’s brimming with too many ideas to be hemmed in by conventional song structure.

Spaltro arranged as well as penned these tunes, quite a precocious feat for a first-timer with such sonic ambition. The horns that carry the melody on “Aubergine” are mighty Feist-y, and the occasional strings (as on the stunning “You Are the Apple”) alternately soar melodramatically and circle in Glass-like repetition. Meanwhile, the guitars bite and squall harder than you’d expect from a woman who probably still falls within the singer-songwriter tent, if such labels can apply. Even the banjo on her Appalachian turn “Regarding Ascending the Stairs” comes across as sincere.

Lady Lamb burns brightest on a trio of six-plus minute epics, each of which runs the gamut of emotions in Fiery Furnaces-like mini-suite fashion. On “Bird Balloons” she starts off pissed, talks herself off the ledge, only to relapse into an eerie mania that recalls PJ Harvey’s chilling Rid of Me. Spaltro already has her go-to imagery – Jesus, ghosts, and assorted fruits make repeat appearances – and “I still need your teeth around my organs” is her idea of a romantic confession. Not exactly easy listening, yet she can still be soothing (“Florence Berlin”) and hummable (the bouncy if busy “Rooftop”).

Ripely Pine covers a ton of ground in an hour’s time – it plays a bit like a freeform mixtape, albeit one with a heady unifying vision. Spaltro’s the rare find who possesses conventionally appealing pipes yet no trace of self-consciousness to prevent her from yelping and tossing propriety to the wind. Here’s hoping she continues to resist that sense of reserve as she amasses the audience this album should bring.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Ripely Pine
[Ba Da Bing]