"And all I have is half a heart - Full of love."
Chad Bishop and Elizabeth Lopiccolo, the central songwriting team of The Cripple Lilies, return froma year's sabbatical from the studio with this fine offering, La Bete. Gathering momentum from the release of a live EP early in 2005, the duo began writing for this new album and rigorously thumping local venues, stirring up public attention and honing the stripped-down live sound that signaled a definite departure from their earlier projects. Along the way, they collaborated with longtime friend and co-conspirator Aaron Finley and gifted local musicians Sean Petersen and Brandon Warren. The resulting quintet was widely acclaimed locally and regionally, and after much research and forethought,they recorded in Athens, Georgia with acclaimed Indie producer David Barbe of Chase Park Transduction. These sessions from September 2006 provide the corpus of the new album.
At first listen, fans of their earlier work as C.B. Radio may be in for a bit of a shock. It's a lovely shock. Gone is the blustering horn section, the ambitious violin, the sharp dry energy of an vigorous young band holding the line behind well-written songs. No, La Bete is a different creature altogether, a siren's call, to be sure, but emerging gently, wistfully, as from deep in a well. This production favorslive room sounds, warm and close vocal performances and understated instrumentation that doesn't really hit home until the third or fourth listen. And that's not because you aren't paying attention - it's simply that the degrees of subtlety involved in the writing, arrangements and performances are such that it can't be absorbed all at once. It unfolds with each consecutive listen, and seldom puts a foot wrong.
It's as if the lines of the opening track's chorus set the stage for the rest of the album: "And all I have is half a heart / Full of love." There is the duplicitousness of recognized damage, of reduced function, coupled inseparably with a wholesome commitment to see this through to its conclusion. The "half heart" that is "full of love" is the vehicle for transformation; less sometimes really is more in this case.
While each of the nine tracks are a treasure, the album is less over-reaching, generically speaking, than previous studio recordings. Bishop's vocal melodies moving artfully from menacing whisper to clear falsetto (often in the same song), and Lopiccolo's increased role as lead vocalist on several tracks (Carnations, Left Over Legs), lends a sonic and thematic consistency that reveals a fully-realized artistic vision. This is no mere collection of songs, however well-written, no postcard from a series of live sessions. This is clearly, from composition to execution, an album, the cohesive result of a mature talent that has successfully harnessed the sensibilities of roots Americana with the best of classical and post-rock influences.
The Cripple Lilies are currently headquartered in Pensacola, Florida, and have plans for an extensive national touring schedule for Summer 2007.