Dehlia Low is one of the newer bands treading the fine line between bluegrass and country, folk and old time, paying respects to all those roots and growing into, what their website calls, “Appalachiagrassicana.” The band is Anya Hinkle (fiddle and vocals), Aaron Ballance (resophonic guitar), Bryan Clendenin (mandolin and vocals), Greg ‘Stig’ Stiglets (bass and vocals), and Stacy Claude (guitar and vocals), with Anya and Greg picking up the bulk of the songwriting chores. The recording was artfully produced by Travis Brook of The Amazing Stringdusters, another blossoming young band, and he truly grasped the band’s intended direction.
What will immediately capture your ear on the first listen to Ravens and Crows are the vocals; this is not the sound of your usual bluegrass. Most of the songs on the recording feature Anya’s lead vocals, and they fall with one foot in the south and one foot in Appalachia… not quite a drawl, and not quite a twang, but entirely captivating. The male vocals snap like a pine log thrown on a fire, and that rough-hewn vocal character perfectly matches the chosen songs. Add the harmonies and you get even more depth and character to this gem of a recording.
The first three songs on the CD were all written by Anya; a rollicking “State of Jefferson” (by the way, how many bands could pull off using “pseudonym” in their lyrics?), the soulful “Living is Easy” – a back porch song if there ever was one, and “Goin’ Down,” a tune that would not be out of place at a modern day barn dance but is backed with gospel tinged lyrics.
By this point you will have noticed how well the resophonic guitar meshes in with the rest of the instruments and, indeed, takes a good part of the limelight on the breaks. Bill Monroe might have said something about “no part of nothin’,” but if you follow that take, well, you just won’t know what you’re missing.
The fourth track is “What Do You Think of Her Now?,” and it would not be out of place next to a Patsy Cline tune in a country roadhouse jukebox. Maybe, that it was written by Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran has something to do with that. Not only does the band make it their own, they’ve added their own last stanza to the tune and pull it off beautifully.
“Better Left Unsaid”
Anya’s dreamy title track “Ravens and Crows” follows, and then the boys get to break out their chops…..“Thunder” by Greg Stiglets with its Dylanesque lyrical phrasing and the male character spending a sleepless night pondering life; “Change Up,” the sole instrumental on the recording will have your toes tapping and “Ride” with Anya’s voice sliding over Greg’s tight lyrical composition.
“Drifting On A Lonesome Sea” sounds like it’s come from a songbook Dehlia Low has shared with Crooked Still, and you can take that as a high compliment to both bands. “Better Left Unsaid” is a beautiful country heartbreaker, and “$40 Chain” shows that not only can the band do solid straight up bluegrass stomps, they can write them too.
The recording ends with an ethereal version of the traditional song “Cannonball Blues” and one finds that the tempo change from the typical bluegrass style actually forces you to listen to the song as though it were a new one. I think that sums up Dehlia Low perfectly, to keep the spirit of the old and yet make it new.