You can find Larkin Poe, aka sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, on YouTube, covering beloved songs, just the two of them on a variety of instruments, in a series they call “Tip ‘o the Hat.” Here they’ll cover anything from Black Sabbath to Son House to Jack White. If the song means anything to either of them, they’ll learn it and perform it to learn more about the song. The performances are amazing, in that they’re able to re-create classic, well-known songs out of minimal instrumentation; usually just their voices, a guitar, and a lap steel. But to remake their beloved songs, they’ll use other tools: hand claps; foot stomps; guitar string scrapes; any technique at their disposal to make a song sound the way it’s supposed to sound. Seeing this work in progress makes you understand why Venom & Faith is such a wonderful album. Like their YouTube covers, on this, their fourth album, they do whatever it takes to create the best, most perfect version of every song.
One fascinating way they do this is with drum loops. Coming out of Americana, as they do, and given their amazing instrumental prowess, you might not be expecting electronic drums. Yet there they are, making great songs even better. “Honey Honey” has a haunting, simple electronic beat as the Lovells strategically layer guitar and lap steel, the vocals hypnotically alternating between chanting and achingly beautiful melodic hooks. The song deconstructs Americana to craft a great pop song.
And while this is a beautiful pop album, there are still plenty of lovely traditional Americana touches. “Good and Gone” could be a standard spiritual. A sad beautiful melody from Rebecca is doubled by lap steel from Megan, both eventually joined by a simple foot-stomp of a beat. Organ gradually floats in. And less than three minutes later, the song is over. It could have been written 50 years ago, and it could be sung 50 years from now. It’s classic.
Venom & Faith isn’t just about the music, though. The lyrics are also often funny, clever, sad, and angry. Many times simultaneously. “California King,” built on a sad banjo riff, is a tale of someone not knowing where they stand in a relationship. It has the best line of the album: “California king size dreams / In a twin bed.” The music, a sampled churning pop beat supporting lyrical lap steel, makes for a cool, trippy track, but thanks to the lyrics, the song could stand on its own as a simple country song (as could any track on the album).
Larkin Poe have created an album that is intricate without being dense. Amazingly, despite the variety of sounds, textures, and instruments, the entire thing is performed by just the two of them (except for one guest appearance by slide guitarist Tyler Bryant). It took me a few listens to figure out Venom & Faith is a pop album. But not a pop album like something from Ariana Grande. Rather a pop album from a band that’s listened to and covered hundreds of great pop songs from the past two centuries, and understands all of the big things that make a song great, but also all of the little things. Venom & Faith is two Americana artists pushing expectations to create something both familiar but also innovative. Not many artists could pull off what they’ve done here.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Honey Honey
– Good and Gone
– Ain’t Gonna Cry
– Hard Time Killing Floor Blues
– California King
The Big Hit
– California King
Review by Steven Ovadia