Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Low Society ~~ Sanctified

For their third album, the Memphis-based group Low Society took a different approach. Consisting mainly of the amazing vocalist, Mandy Lemons, and world class guitarist Sturgis Nikides, they added the Belgian rhythm section of Jacky Verstreten on bass and Bart De Bruecker on drums, and the result is a great and eclectic album, Sanctified.
The word, “sanctified,” means to make holy. It’s a powerful word, a word of transition, a word of taking something and turning into something so much more than what it was used for. A simple cup becomes sanctified and is turned into the Holy Grail. Here, I believe Low Society is taking music – specifically blues music – and elevating it. In their hands, blues music becomes a powerful healing force for those that play it, and those who experience it.
Perhaps I am stretching things a bit, but that’s how I have felt about music since I was a child. There is magic in music. Individually the notes are just notes, but when played together, in sequence and from the heart, the music takes on a life of its own and can change our way of thinking and feeling.
Additional musicians on Sanctified include Rick Steff on organ, piano, and accordion; Will Danger on drums for one song; Brian Hawkins on jaw harp; and Andrew McCarty on percussion. The tandem of Lemons and Nikides wrote eight of ten songs on the album, and bookended their songs with covers opening and closing the album.
One of my all-time favorite songs is John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery. Low Society gives it a deeper swamp feeling and Lemons stakes her claim as one of the great voices working today. Her attitude gives the song a sharper edge while Nikides’ guitars drive the music. If this is your first Low Society song, welcome to their world. You’ll want to hear a lot more…
They add some bounce and funk to their next number, Raccoon Song. I like the music a lot, but I’m not so sure about the lyrics. Still, listening to Lemons sing anything is an experience. This one seems happy with a lot of scatting in between the verses. Might have to think about this one a little.
The band slows things down for The Freeze, with the rhythm section taking the lead augmented by some cool keyboards. Lemons’ voice drops some of her edge, taking a slightly softer approach while still maintaining her power. Low Society shows that they are adept at using different styles of music to create moods. Pretty wild number.
They follow up with the title track, Sanctified, opening up with some very cool Texas shuffle on a Resonator guitar. It’s a cool number and the lyrics are very true, the blues are, indeed, sanctified. They run through a list of some of the key elements of most blues songs, invoking the images of the past through both words and music. Love this one.
River Of Tears is next, with an opening that sounds like an old-school country song. Coming out of Memphis, a great crossroads city, mixing country and blues just comes naturally. The lyrics are good, solid, and while the subject matter has been used in other songs, Lemons’ voice makes it all seem new and fresh.
Next up is the quiet and lovely Nina. Nikides’ guitar is gorgeous on the opening (which lasts for nearly two minutes) before Lemons’ vocals come in. It’s a unique choice for the album, but listening to the lyrics, the song is darker than it appears on the surface. It’s a very cool number that might get overlooked for its length (over seven minutes), but it bears repeated playing just to squeeze out every moment. Watch out for a few uses of an adult word at the very end of the song.
The song, Drowning Blues, follows. It has a good rocking beat and Nikides actually gets some time in behind the microphone. Lemons’ supplies some backing vocals and while Nikides can’t match her vocal power, it’s good to give the man his time in the spotlight. Watch out for a few uses of a word I can’t play on the radio near the end of the song.
With a title like New York City Boy #3, the opening with its gentle guitar and soft vocals was a bit of a surprise. Ditto, the use of an accordion. The song is gorgeous with a haunting melody and a very different musical approach.
There’s some Louisiana rocking going on with Here Comes The Flood. Lemons pulls out all the stops on her vocals as she reaches deep into her soul to bring out these emotions. It’s one of the best songs on the album and deeply steeped in the blues. Love it.
They close the album with their cover of the classic I’d Rather Go Blind. Low Society gives it a twist with the use of a steel guitar. It sounds like it has been given an old-school country makeover. I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter, Lemons has the ability to take just about any song and make it hers. She shares the pain of this song and makes us believe that it was written just for her.
Low Society is one of those groups that redefines the blues genre. They mix in elements of country, funk, and roots and come up with a sound that is uniquely theirs. At times the music is as blazing as Memphis hot sauce and deeper than the Mississippi at flood stage.
I like those artists who challenge preconceived notions and carve out their own paths. It takes bravery, commitment, and enough adventurous spirit to sail on in a direction that others dare not go. Low Society is one of those groups. Not every song on this album works for me, but overall, I think the album has much to recommend and I can’t wait to sample their previous two albums to see how their music has evolved.

If you want to join me in looking into the band a little more, start with their website, to check out their previous albums and look for where they might be touring. But if you happen to find yourself in Memphis, be sure to look them up in their natural habitat and tell ‘em The Professor sent you.

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