November 11, 2004

Test Spin: Po' Girl

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No one is watching. You open your grandparents’ attic door and slip up the stairs, breathlessly hurrying to yank on the overhead bulb. The light is dim. Most of the room’s treasures appear as silhouettes, and you can barely make them out. And then you see it — their old record player, stashed matter-of-factly with the other forgotten artifacts. Peering down at it, you see that your grandparents have left a record on it, silently in wait. You play it, and the room fills up first with slow moving folk guitar and then with a woman’s sultry, jazzy voice. You hear in it an unashamed sweetness and feel nostalgia for a time long past, a time that, though you never knew it, you imagine to be categorically simple.

In a way, Po’ Girl’s new release, Vagabond Lullabies, is exactly this secret record. The trio’s sophomore release, the album combines and preserves “old” traditions, like folk and jazz, in an absolutely masterful way. The women’s voices retain uncannily jazz’s smoothness, while their acoustic guitar-, fiddle- and banjo-driven instruments invoke pure folk. Vagabond Lullabies is, like the abandoned record upstairs, perfectly nostalgic.

And, at the same time, the album is remarkably new: it includes an urban sensibility. This city vibe, underwriting the entire album, manifests explicitly in two songs. In “Take the Long Way,” for example, one of the album’s many guest vocalists raps (albeit is in a more spoken-word poetry kind of way) over the mellow instrumentals. In all, the album resists being just one thing; it is not simply “old-sounding,” nor is it definitively cutting-edge. Instead, it is an outstanding fusion of both. Vagabond Lullabies is the album that happens when you creep back downstairs for dinner, your grandparents on one end of the table, you on the other.

Archived article by Lynne Feeley
Sun Staff Writer