Lily and the Tigers prove that isolation can have very good effects on the music -- even when you're alone with friends.Self-released, 2014
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon
7.7 / 10
There will always references and stories about the influence isolation can have on the creative process, most likely raking in references to albums that have stories of this nature embedded in their being. But when you’re part of a group, can you really be isolated in the truest sense of the word? Being away from all the hustle and bustle of city living is one thing, but can you still have that personal journey of reflection, etc, when you’re in the company of others?
The answer to that is, of course, determined by the individual (or individuals, to be accurate). Just being in a new setting can rejuvenate a band into creating new things, surrounded by new scenery and sounds, influencing their end product in both direct and indirect ways. Atlanta’s Lily and the Tigers seem to play in favour of escaping, creating a greatly reward and rich third album after spending a couple of weeks in rural Vermont, camping in the wilderness each night between recording. The band sound not just in tune with their (I’m assuming) calm surroundings, but more importantly with one another, also making a great case for the fact you can indeed escape together.
If you’ve never been to Vermont, then taking a few cursory glances of a Google-image search of the second-least populated state show that it’s rich with woodland, rolling hills, and winding roads. Lily and the Tigers sound like most of these image looks: homely, rustic, autumnal in colour, and almost meditatively peaceful. It would be easy to place all the glory on lead singer and guitarist Casey Hood, whose rich voice permeates the eight tracks on The Hand You Deal Yourself, but in fact it’s the backdrop of music that makes it sound so wonderfully cast. Adam Mincey’s upright bass and Jared Pepper’s guitarist skills are just as flavoursome as Hood’s vocals, both playing in a way that allows her to sound a hundred-feet tall and for them to be standing right alongside her.
Pepper’s guitar flourishes know when to come alive at the right points. On “Last Mosquito” and “The Hand You Deal Yourself” he’s teetering the music towards its next chord change or bridge, filling each moment with a pluck that never sounds superfluous. On “Just A Memory”, where everything slows to a weary and summery pace, like languorousness has overcome everyone due to excessive heat, Pepper turn his amplifier on, but his electric guitar punctuate both the rhythm and melody without ever getting in the way of Hood’s gorgeously recorded vocals. Mincey, in a rare instance for a bass player, is impossible not to make note of. His bass playing can often be the most defining feature of a track, like the way he slaps and slides in on blues-stomper “Honey”, or on “All Hearts And Hands”, where he adds his own watery rhythm within the confines of the instrumental beat. Together they’re something of an unstoppable force that can, as said, both pass you by and hit you on a gut level. It’s an expert talent they have that never ceases to be reward even the shallowest kind of deep listening.
But it’s worth returning to Hood for a moment, as her voice is what leaves the real imprint here, and without her it would be hard to imagine The Hand You Deal Yourself having quite the same impression. She offers many sides to herself: on opening track “Beaumont” she sets forth a mission statement with a warm and friendly campfire infused tone reciting the joys of making music as an escape from the everyday life (“Well, there’s laws that preach against this/We’ve got day jobs that treat us like pigs…’Cause I got friends who can light up a room/ with their words and their heavenly tunes”); her Southern drawl finds its way into her vocal crescendos on “Angel of Mine”, but in a manner that allows her to come across like anything but another run of the mill female folk singer; and on the aforementioned highlight “Honey” she sinks in her words, like they’re consuming her too, accentuating the powerful effect on the chorus by cleverly layering vocals on just the first words of each line, leaving you longing for another hit. “Hail to the queen,” she sings, and it’s hard not to want to fall to your knees when she does so.
In a way the message to be taken from the album is one that might be heard without actually hearing the words. Rather than that being a debasement of the lyrics, it’s more of a reference to the power of the music here. “The title represents the idea that you deal your own hand and make your life what it is. You get out of it what you put into it,” Hood explains, and, at the very least, the trio sound like they’re doing just that. Theirs is music that might be labelled as folk, but its sounds more soaked in blues for the most part, particularly on “Beaumont”, “Honey” and “Just A Memory”. But even that seem too simplistic; this is music that sounds indebted to its core theme. The Hand You Deal Yourself is an album made in the confines of a rural escape, a band making the most of and truly getting the best out of a moment they made for themselves.