June 20th, 2007 5:33 pm | by JEFF ROSENBERG Music | Posted In: Columns, Album Reviews, Album Reviews

FLAT MOUNTAIN GIRLS, Idle Talk & Wicked Deeds (self-released); MISTY RIVER, Stories (self-released)

idle[ROOTS] Contrasting the varying roots-music styles of the Flat Mountain Girls and Misty River, I once said that the women of Misty River wear makeup, whereas the FMGs probably don't shave their armpits. But longtime Misty River gal Laura Quigley now plays bass with both bands. While I don't know what that says about her cosmetic and depilatory preferences, it certainly attests to Quigley's versatility—and her busy schedule. Each group released a brand-new album last month, and their respective styles continue to develop along divergent but richly rewarding paths.

Misty River also features Quigley's mom, Carol Harley, on guitar and banjo, as well as fiddler-guitarist Chris Kokesh and accordionist Dana Abel. All four ladies sing—and do they ever. Their new album, Stories (the band's sixth), is positively dripping with gorgeous, spot-on harmonies and stunning solo vocals. The band's choice of cover songs has always hovered between brilliant and almost too obvious, but Kokesh's understated lead on “Black Muddy River” makes it one of the most effective renderings of a Grateful Dead song you're likely to hear. And damned if Quigley doesn't put such emotion into “Barbara Ellen” (a.k.a. Allen) that you'll probably hear that hoary story anew. Other songs hail from Daniel Lanois-via-Emmylou Harris and Crosby, Stills & Nash. But the tune that had me grabbing the CD cover to see who wrote it, “Time Goes By,” is a Kokesh original. Abel and Harley's own tunes, too, stand up alongside the covers.

The Flat Mountain Girls—who are all about the traditional repertoire—might consider adding the odd original or two to their mix as well; knowing the quirky tunes guitarist Nann Alleman pens for her other band, Spigot, they'd be odd indeed. But the furthest stretch on the Flat Mountain Girls' new, third disc, Idle Talk & Wicked Deeds, is a swell cover of a contemporary song: “Forgiveness,” by Lonesome Sister Sarah Hawker. Elsewhere, among material by usual suspects the Carter Family and Charlie Poole (and the ubiquitous Trad.), the gals have the balls to tackle that most fearsome of American songwriters: doomed blues bard Robert Johnson. Their singularly irreverent interpretation of his broken lament “Love in Vain”—featuring Alleman's unique vocals, banjo-picker Rachel Gold's goofy harmonies and train-whistle whoops from Quigley and fiddler Lisa Marcisek—proves you don't have to play originals to be original.

Stories and Idle Talk & Wicked Deeds are both out now.

Read the Flat Mountain Girls' upcoming Alaskan tour diary right here on LocalCut.
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