“We’re gonna get a little country on now,” warns Misty Lyn from the Blind Pig stage to a modest but engaged crowd. “It happens.”
Country happens a lot with Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful. With Carol Gray’s warm traditional fiddle, Ryan Gimpert’s haunting pedal steel, and Misty Lyn’s aw-shucks, heartland songwriting, country moods feel inevitable here. It’s whiskey-drinking country, with the slow, wrenching ballads and rueful lyrics that aren’t meant to cheer you up but leave you feeling less alone.
And country isn’t all this band has to offer. Their full repertoire is better characterized as indie folk-rock. Their live shows are danceably energetic, taking advantage of the mature musicianship of Jim Roll on bass and the intensity of drummer Matt Jones. The band members play well together, jumping up and down when the rhythms demand, singing tight harmonies, and urging each other on.
However, their live energy doesn’t translate to their recent studio recording For the Dead. The CD is subdued and pensive, dark and languid. Most of the tunes are rhythmically neither here nor there—the ballads aren’t quite slow enough, and the up-tempo songs really aren’t.
Misty Lyn’s lyrics suggest the pacing of the songs with messages of desperate yearning and morbid grief. She pens a lot of autumn images of decay, such as “your trees they start to withering” and “the flowers left to dying in the gravel” and “I’ll welcome your October frost.” The title track speaks of breathing in the dead in the dirt of a cemetery and stringing “his bones from the limbs of two cherry trees.” “Minneapolis” is a nod to Lucinda Williams, with its anguished melody and minimal words repeated multiple times.
Many compositions are built around quiet intros or interludes featuring Misty Lyn’s acoustic guitar and comfortable, clear voice. There’s nothing distinctive about her singing style, but it is highly controlled, soothing, and pleasant. Similarly, nothing about this band’s sound is groundbreaking, but the familiar country-folk mood is well executed.
Perhaps the most distinctive quality of Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful is the look of the band. With her close-cropped brown hair and strong presence, Misty Lyn channels a rockin’ Rachel Maddow. Gray is model-tall and gorgeous but not the least self-conscious. And Jones—beating the skins in cap, jacket, beard, and mean-eyed squint—looks like something out of a Kerouac novel. Check them out at the Elbow Room on Friday, July 3, for full effect.
[Originally published in July, 2009.]
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