But the largest group of songs is also the most distinctive. They seem to come from Knaggs’ pen, although none of Lac La Belle’s songs carries a songwriter credit. They’re statements of identity, in life or in love, and lyrically they’re not too far off the independent female voices like Kasey Chambers and Neko Case who have populated alternative country venues. But the old-time accompaniment adds an edge that rock guitars don’t furnish, interacting with the lyrics in completely new ways. When Knaggs sings “I build myself up from the way I run,” or “we survive the different ways of dying,” she fuses the hard existential gloom of Dock Boggs with contemporary emotional content. Knaggs, who is classically trained and also performs in rock and Afrobeat bands, has the vocal chops to carry this off: she’s not affecting an old-time sound but carrying a musical resource forward.
Lac La Belle opens on December 3 at the Ark for Orpheum Bell, another extraordinarily original band rooted in old American music. Danny Kline of the sparse Ann Arbor Americana band Delta 88 is also on the bill. You couldn’t ask for a better one-night demonstration of the fresh wonders of southeast Michigan’s alternative country scene.
[Originally published in December, 2010.]