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Flatt Lonesome falls flat

Donald Teplyske  |  February 24, 2013

Flatt Lonesome "Flatt Lonesome" Pisgah Ridge

Having received considerable attention, including an extended spot on Sirius XM's Bluegrass Junction, Flatt Lonesome, a rather youthful six-piece band, developed a rather strong online presence in advance of their debut, self-titled release.

With a foundation in the lead vocals of the Robertson family- siblings Kelsi (mandolin), Charli (fiddle), and Buddy (guitar)- the group has recorded a rather pedestrian collection of safe, tepid, and- I guess to some folks- appealing bluegrass. Nothing really stands out within their mix, for better or worse. The vocals are pleasant, the instrumentation entirely competent. It just doesn't do much.

I was hopeful while listening to the album-opening version of You'll Get No More From Me, Hazel Dickens' classic kiss-off number. Kelsi Robertson's singing, while miles smoother than Dickens' beautifully flawed mountain voice, captures some of the frustrating pain contained within the lyric, but the choral refrain seems to miss the point of the ache.

There are a few places on the album where the band seems to find their footing, and almost without exception this occurs on the band-written songs.

The Kelsi Robertson original Just Any Moment feels real and passionate- sung by people who believe the message, the song is conveyed in a lively and sincere manner with Buddy's lead vocals carrying the weight. Switching things up, his I'm Blue, sung by Kelsi, isn't an overly complex song lyrically or melodically- a straightforward Patty Lovelessesque country song- but it works within the bluegrass setting as banjo (Paul Harrigill) and reso (Michael Stockton) reveal the path. The sister duet One Foot in the Grave, with Charli providing nice harmony, is yearnsome and wanting.

Their choice of outside material- and their execution of it- is more troubling.

Take their version of Jackson, a song that should seethe with passion. Leaving aside the lack of ardour that should exist between siblings...okay, I can't leave it aside- Jackson should not be sung in a duet by brother and sister. Moving on...

Buddy and Julie Miller's Does Your Ring Burn Your Finger seems as out of place in the hands of Flatt Lonesome as it would at a middle school talent show. A version of My Favorite Memory got an old Osborne Brothers album off my shelf, always a good thing to do, but likely not what the band was hoping to inspire. The trite Boondocks was a top ten song for Little Big Town, and should likely have stayed there: while singing of 'heart and soul,' the band shows little of either.

They fare marginally better covering Paul Kennerly and Marty Stuart's Draggin My Heart Around and Harley Allen's I'd Miss You. On the Right Side, like Just Any Moment a bluegrass gospel song, is also successful. But these isolated moments are not enough to recommend an album.

It pains me to write critically of an album that falls far short of where it needs to land to be considered 'top flight.' But, the kids are working in the big wide open now; if they want to run with the big dogs, I'm guessing they are prepared to deal with the coyotes yipping from the bushes.

Perhaps Flatt Lonesome should stick to bluegrass gospel. When they sing of their Lord and their beliefs, they 'pull it off.' They are much less successful when attempting to seize the depth of experience in songs they likely haven't come close to living.

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