‘New perspective to age-old traditions’: Lula Wiles band to take the stage at the Nevada Theatre
Boston trio Lula Wiles celebrates the release of their latest CD at the historic Nevada Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 16 as part of Paul Emery’s Nevada City LIVE! Concert series.
Lula Wiles Instagram profile states, “We are a band. None of us is named Lula.”
Long before they were a band, Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland and Mali Obomsawin were singing folk songs and trading fiddle tunes at camp in Maine. “All of us were lucky to have access to the folk music community at a young age,” Burke says. “The music traditions that we’re drawing on are social, community-building traditions.” Members of Lula Wiles carry those early lessons of community and the meaning of shared art with them as they seek to create music that questions cultural virtues, soothes aching wounds, and envisions a better world.
Lula Wiles came of age in Boston, in the practice rooms of Berklee College of Music and the city’s lively roots scene. In 2016, the band self-released Lula Wiles, a sensitive, twang-tinged collection of originals. Since then, they have toured internationally, winning fans at the Newport Folk Festival and the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and sharing stages with the likes of Aoife O’Donovan, the Wood Brothers and Tim O’Brien.
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Now, the release of What Will We Do on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings places the group squarely in line with some of its deepest influences, from the protest anthems of Woody Guthrie to the trailblazing songs of Elizabeth Cotten and Hazel Dickens. (Even the band’s name is a twist on an old Carter Family song.)
The members of Lula Wiles knew how they wanted this record to feel: intimate, warm, with the edges left rough. “We really wanted this album to sound like three people making music in a room,” Buckland explains. The musicians take turns in different roles – Burke and Buckland on guitar and fiddle, Obomsawin on bass, all three singing – but no matter who’s playing what, they operate in close tandem. In carrying on the folk ritual of innovation, they infuse their songs with distinctly modern sounds: pop hooks, distorted electric guitars, and dissonant multi-layered vocals, all employed in the service of songs that reclaim folk music in their own voice.
At its core, What Will We Do is an album centered around songcraft. The lyrics are sharp and the melodies finely wrought. You can hear, too, a growing maturity, a widening worldview. The songs speak to the issues of the day, even as they riff on folk music’s tropes. Sometimes the best thing to do with an old idea is to turn it upside down.
That’s not to say that no traditional material made it onto the album. The title track is an Irish ballad — although the band couldn’t resist adding a twist of their own. Says Burke, “We wrote the verse about marrying the banker and redistributing all his money.” Lula Wiles brings new perspective to age-old traditions — above all, the people’s practice of sharing their communities’ struggles through songs. The band exists in the tense space where tradition and revolution meet, from which their harmonies rise into the air to create new American music.
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