By Tim W. Jackson
I was down and out
Now I’m up again
When I roll the dice
From the first chords and lyrics of “She’s a Self Made Man,” the gritty, blues-rock sound of Larkin Poe immediately comes to life and smacks you the in face. The band rolled the dice on making an ambitious record full of energy, soul, and expert musicianship—and everybody listening wins.
Megan and Rebecca Lovell, the sisters at the core of Larkin Poe, are products of the South, and their blend of music reflects their roots. Raised in Georgia and now based in Nashville, the two got their start years earlier performing with their sister, Jessica, as The Lovell Sisters. While their mom wanted them to learn classical music, their dad was playing rock records. As they reached their teens, they listened to Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Dixie Chicks, and bluegrass stalwarts such as Ralph Stanley.
The Lovell Sisters appeared on “A Prairie Home Companion,” Rebecca won the MerleFest mandolin competition, and their song “Distance” won a John Lennon Songwriting Contest. But as 2009 waned and Jessica decided to pursue other interests, the trio disbanded. Soon afterward, Larkin Poe was born and the two sisters have continued to gain steam ever since. Both multi-instrumentalists, Rebecca mainly plays electric guitar while Megan can most often be seen playing lap steel or Dobro.
Venom & Faith, released in 2018, saw Larkin Poe reaching its potential, and the results were obvious: a No. 1 album and GRAMMY nomination. Now, Self Made Man (releasing June 12 on their own Tricki-Woo Records) is set to put the world on notice that these Southern sisters are on top of their game—and the realm of Americana & Roots music. With an undergirding of blues, the sisters call their sound “roots rock and roll.” Megan explains that a thread connecting the duo through the past three Larkin Poe records, including Self Made Man, is Southern American music roots in all its forms.
Many fans come to Larkin Poe via its YouTube channel where Megan and Rebecca play low-fi covers by artists ranging from Jim Croce to Arctic Monkeys. More recently that has evolved into what the pair call the “Tip o’ the Hat Video Series,” which offers a nod to songs that influenced them over the years. Just before this interview, they released a video for “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Other artists include the likes of Joe Walsh, The Moody Blues, Black Sabbath, and the Allman Brothers.
The choice of such covers indicates that the Lovell sisters appreciate a heavier sound, and the self-produced Self Made Man is a record that truly rocks. You won’t find sappy love songs or, for that matter, many songs written from a personal point-of-view. The song “Scorpion” stings with what seems to be a personal venom but the sisters declined to offer whether the subject of the “you’re so evil” lyric was in the realm of their reality.
Rebecca says that the focus on the album’s songs was less introspective and more about creating songs that could be sung as a community. “We were looking for human connection,” Rebecca says. “And we wrote for the record this time instead of just cobbling together some songs between tours. Everything really just flowed.”
Larkin Poe pays tribute to its roots on the new album with the song “Back Down South,” which offers the lyric:
The trees down in Georgia
Grow as tall as a cross
Where Little Richard was singing
Where rock ‘n’ roll learned to walk
As Georgia-raised Little Richard died May 9 in Tennessee and was laid to rest in Alabama, the song’s poignancy increases as one ponders the lyric:
Streets of gold
Ain’t that red dirt clay
Leave some peaches in a basket by the pearly gates
When my race is run
Hear that angel sound
May the good Lord show me mercy
Send me back down South
Self Made Man was recorded with the assistance of engineer Roger Alan Nichols at his studio, Bell Tone Recording, in Nashville. Larkin Poe bandmates Tarka Layman (bass) and Kevin McGowan (drums) joined in, as did Rebecca’s husband, Tyler Bryant, who gets the “featuring” tag on “Back Down South.”
The song on the album most likely to provide an earworm is “Tears of Blue to Gold,” which is an extremely catchy and fun toe-tapper of a tune. But every song on the album seems fueled by a fire that elevates Larkin Poe to a new level.
Megan and Rebecca are thrilled for the release of the new album but, like most touring musicians, are disappointed that they cannot support the album right now with touring. Rebecca says they are taking it in stride, though. “I lost my voice not too long ago,” she says, “which definitely taught me a bit about patience. I think that prepared us a bit for this spring. We learned sometimes you just have to be relaxed and appreciate the moments that you have.”
Like other acts, Larkin Poe has participated in a live stream series to continue to connect with fans. Its Home Sweet Home live stream series has offered five performances thus far with the final scheduled show in the series set for June 6.
That said, Rebecca also says, “I cannot wait to be back on the road. It will be great to see the fans again and to play the music from this record.” Until then, Megan offers that it’s important for music fans to follow the artists they love and to support them during this time. “A lot of musicians are struggling. This is really a time for everyone who loves music to come together and support each other.”
See the video for “She’s a Self Made Man” here: