Amen Lucy, Amen Ashore for the End facebook.com/amenlucyamen
If the mass-marketed folk-music revival had its moment in the past year or two with the success of bands like the Civil Wars, the Lone Bellow and, more than any other act, Mumford & Sons, it is fitting that such a style trickles down to St. Louis about eighteen months later. Call it cultural diffusion, call it zeitgeist, call it a Prairie Home Invasion: Earnest acoustic strumming and heartfelt harmonizing has fused pop-savvy energy with roots values in Amen Lucy, Amen.
The relatively new quintet recently released its first album Ashore for the End, with principals Zack Schwartz (guitar) and Stephen Lightle (mandolin) sharing songwriting and lead-singing duties evenly on this ten-track collection. Local showgoers will recognize Jenn Rudisill (violin) and Tawaine Noah (drums, backing vocals) from Union Tree Review, a band that recently released an EP and promptly broke up. Upright bassist Charles Clements rounds out the band, though on this home recording you're more likely to hear the trebley quaver of the strings than the low end.
Having two singers gives some range to the album, though the primacy of the vocal harmonies makes the personalities hard to discern. Lightle tends to deliver every song like it's his last, and while one can appreciate both his commitment and on-point pitch, the stridency of his tone doesn't allow for much nuance from song to song. Schwartz is a little more even-keeled, though on "The Water" he mimics his partner's urgency.
Likewise, the instrumentation of each song works on a frantic pulse, making it sometimes difficult to hear or appreciate the interplay of the musicians. Rudisill's violin tends to soar above the fracas -- her style is more suited to a conservatory than a hoedown -- and the little breakdown between her and Clements at the end of "World as Geography" is a welcome breather. But speeding trains aren't great at taking curves, and Ashore for the End seems so intent on racing to the finish line that the scenery gets a little blurry. (Schwartz's "Slow It Down" does take its own advice, and the ballad's tempo helps build drama and tension.)
But when it kicks in, as on the rousing closing number "I Will Swim," you feel the effect of everything Amen Lucy, Amen is aiming for: insistent strums, supportive group harmonies and a message of self-determination in the face of apocalypse. Lightle holds his final note and sends it to the heavens; he may be shaking his fist to an indifferent God, but he's doing it with a smile on his face.
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