The Foxgloves – “Mama Was A Bandit”
Album Review by Joslyn Danielson
The Foxgloves, a folk band composed of 6 women, take the stage with toe-tapping tunes in their new album releasing this week, titled “Mama Was A Bandit”. Catchy yet complex, these women know how to write a folk song with impressive dynamics. Stealing elements of classical, they move all around the key, breaking the 4-chord norm of pop country or blues.
These talented artists are not your average bluegrass band. While still present, the banjo takes a back seat to an instrument that is quite unexpected in the bluegrass genre; the harp. The exquisite harp playing seduces you into an ethereal realm of melancholic hopefulness. The instrumental, “Underwing”, features the harp and exhibits the most classical influence. It could be a score to a movie. It invokes images of a meadow in the spring, sparrows and butterflies flitting about, and dandelion seeds softly floating along with the wind.
Tight four-part harmonies run rampant in the album, stealing the spotlight with the haunting narratives. Blues, southern gothic, country western, folk, and classical, these combinations create an album that is a slightly elevated version of americana. They switch between instruments with each song, ranging from an autoharp to a washboard.
The lyrics tend toward traditional country/folk themes, nature, love, heartbreak, cars, and booze. The lyricism is elevated above the simple repetitive pop country songs of late. They dive into narratives and tell stories from the perspectives of others, especially different women throughout American history.
The songs make you feel connected to those who set foot on this land before us. For example, “Across The Rio Grande”, an emotional, memoir-esque narrative of a man trying to get his daughter to safety following the Salvadoran Civil War.
If you close your eyes, you awake around a pioneer campfire, with your mother and sisters’ harmonies lulling you into a relaxation after a hard day’s work in the field. Your mother sings you the songs that her mother sang to her, back in the old country. keeping the oral tradition alive the only way she knows how, with her voice and her fiddle. This connection to history sprouts forth in many of their songs, using lyrical themes to send the listener back in time with the melancholic fiddle and the folksy, one-two bass lines.
“Better Run” Sends chills down the whole body, building and moving in intensity, thanks to the harp and the enviously tight 4-part harmonies. The 5+ minute long song, “Speed Queen” is especially haunting, as it describes a young woman’s struggle with addiction. “Hometown” and “Mama Was A Bandit” are the most bluesy and most modern tracks on the album, with upbeat percussion and electric guitar.
The dichotomy between the two main influences, classical and folk, create an album for anytime and anywhere. Trance-inducing at times, and foot-stompin at others, it is a combination not often seen. Campfire songs, classical medleys, dirty blues riffs, and narrative folk stories all have their moment in the album.
“Mama Was A Bandit” will be released on September 23rd, with a release party at The Hook And Ladder in Minneapolis. Also joining the Foxgloves at that show is the award-winning group, Maygen And The Birdwatcher.