Lady Lamb the Beekeeper might have an adorable moniker, but there’s nothing cute about her music. Lady Lamb, more conventionally known as Aly Spaltro, has fearlessly conquered huge stages, having played SXSW and opened for the likes of venerable guitarist Kaki King. Now the 20-something old soul has boiled down her numerous bedroom recordings into one equally audacious debut record, Ripely Pine.
Spaltro’s two biggest assets are her fearsome pipes and intricate lyrics, and Ripely Pine displays both with rich flavor. A mix of new tracks and burnished live-set standards, the album has an earnest, arts and crafts feel, the tracks as varied in style as they are in length.
The disc starts off contemplative on “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” and ends in the smoldering ruins of “Taxidermist, Taxidermist”. In between, Ripely Pine explodes into a constellation of emotions: joy, desire, regret, sadness, anger — the experience of being a twenty-something in 2013, detailed in such powerful poetry that our own youthful writings pale in comparison.
“Aubergine” re-creates those tumultuous feelings in its structure. Spaltro starts with a quick-fire alliterative line, building one decibel louder on each word as she sings, bursting into full-hearted, open-throated glory by the third line. She backs off a bit on the chorus but grows each line as it repeats. “Absence makes my heart grow hollow,” she intones, almost hollering by the end.
The doors really blow off on “Crane Your Neck”. Spaltro lets her voice turn into an ugly, courageous bellow that mirrors the same courage the protagonist needs. “You’ve got to be starving for it / And if you’re crying by the moon, in the sun you better lift up that chin,” she cries before she offers a solution: “Twist your hips / Crane your neck.” Salvation by way of dance music.
“Bird Balloons” lies along that same open vein, lines like “It was a fragile thing and I goddamn dropped it” throbbing with the pain of young love and loss. Elsewhere, heavier arrangements envelop some of her emotion (“Aubergine” is still a heartbreaker, but if you think you like it now, catch it live and brace yourself), but “Bird Balloons” makes good use of production to ratchet up the drama.
Her weird, wonderful poetry weaves through the album, a super-saturated thread of love and mortification that unites all the diverse styles into one cohesive record. “I still need your teeth ‘round my organs,” she begs on “You Are The Apple”. Her opposite in “Regarding Ascending the Stairs”, “handled me like an infant skull / and I cradled you like a newborn nightmare.” She’s more plain elsewhere: “It’s a goddamn joke how we can hurt even in the sun,” she baldly cries on “Crane Your Neck”.
While it may have the wild enthusiasm of a youthful art project, Ripely Pine lacks the scattershot results that such an approach often entails. Quiet moments do not suffer from lack of drama; “Florence Berlin” is a dignified, folksy lullaby, the prettiest example of Spaltro’s vocal prowess, while seven-minute epic “You Are The Apple” breaks down uptempo guitar and reforms into several distinct movements. It’s only the chorus that repeats the title of the song, a pleasant reminder we’re still in the same place.
Ripely Pine pulls us back magnetically, offering a song for any mood, a howl for any weather. But it’s on late track “The Nothing Part II” where Spaltro displays her true potential. “Oh no, we’re singing / lay me down, lay me low, let go your crown, disarm me,” she sings softly. And then it becomes a “we,” a weighty pause before the chorus erupts behind her, a riot of handclaps and percussion, an anthem, a hymn. They let the Lady give her benediction alone: “that we may ripely pine in the mammoth nothing of the night / left to our own devices / and we’ll know, we’ll know, we’ll know just what we want.”
Plenty of albums mine youthful angst; far fewer offer any answers. Spaltro pleads and howls her way to the crux of the matter, finds her own way out, and leaves a poetic map behind for the rest of us. Would that we all pined as ripely.
Essential Tracks: “Crane Your Neck”, “Aubergine”, and “Bird Balloons”