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Lindsay Lou Reinvents, Reemerges As The ‘Queen Of Time’

Dana Kalachnik

When Lindsay Lou arrived in Nashville in 2015 and started making an impression on the music scene, it was easy to peg her and her band the Flatbellys as a progressive string band. They included an acoustic bass, mandolin and dobro, and they’d often lean in around one microphone, like bluegrassers did back in the day. But Lindsay’s voice and crafty songs caused us to lean in too. With rich and smoky tones and pure intonation, she surely had the range for other styles and approaches. A question began to form (for me) around this fascinating songwriter. What might she try next? What creative chapters lay ahead?

We’re finding out now with the release of Queen Of Time, not the first album under her own name but the first album on which she was incontrovertibly in charge. It’s also her first for a record label (the boutique indie Kill Rock Stars) with an outside producer (veteran Dave O’Donnell), about which more in a moment. But most of all, it’s a manifestation of almost tectonic changes in her life. Besides the pandemic, Lindsay was negotiating the death of her grandmother - a guiding light in her life - as well as the formal end of the band that brought her to town and of her marriage to that band’s co-founder Josh Rilko. It was a lot to process, and the song “Queen Of Time” with its repeated refrain of “Who are you?” emerged as symbolic of it all.

“That song is really such a cornerstone of the whole record, because it's so much about self discovery,” she says in Episode 266 of The String. “Throughout everything that it covers - all of the grief and the hope and the love do nothing if they don't show you who you are.” In a story a few weeks ago, I covered Lou’s connection to the song “Nothing Else Matters,” written by her close friends Maya de Vitry and Phoebe Hunt, and how she said that song “spoke so beautifully and gracefully to the grief I was feeling.” In this talk she goes deeper. She says that at the time she was being actively pursued by star producer Dave O’Donnell, a 35-year veteran of the business who’s been recognized for his work with Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Keith Richards and John Mayer. He’d heard her song “The Voice” on Spotify and then her album Southland, he said. His interest was flattering and exciting, but it forced her to recognize that she was “in a weird spot.”

“I could feel I was on the cusp of a transformation, you know? And it's hard to commit to something when you feel your ground shaking like that,” she said of the lockdown year. “But (O’Donnell) was really diligent in following up with me and convincing me of his belief in what I do and in my voice. And together, he and I were imagining how (my new) songs could come to life. And he held so much space for me creatively.”

That’s evident in the grooves. Lou’s longtime Michigander friend Billy Strings sets a suspenseful mood in a minor mode for the song they co-wrote “Nothing’s Working” (which appeared first on his Renewal album). In the show, you’ll also hear “On Your Side (Starman),” in which mandolin and pedal steel brighten up an effervescent love song. Most grounding is “Love Calls,” a beautifully mixed homage to Lou’s grandmother that mingles her song with samples of phone conversations they had as the artist tried to know herself through knowing her family history.

We talk about Lou’s upbringing in Michigan surrounded by community and family folk music. She goes to Michigan State and finds a scene and meets her future band. She meets Billy Strings when he’s still bussing tables at a hotel. She graduates but sets her life in the lab aside for a life on the road, reconnecting with her earliest dreams and aspirations. She finds a loving audience in the jamgrass community and increasingly beyond it. And more good stuff is yet to come. She’ll play the famous Transatlantic Sessions tour in February across the UK, as well as the Caverns Sessions TV taping weekend in March.

Lindsay Lou - Queen of Time (Official Music Video)

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>