There are lots of expectations that audiences have when they see someone trying to make it in music with just a guitar and a pail full of songs — especially if that someone is a 23-year-old poet from Maine that only began playing music five years ago. But Aly Spaltro, who makes music under the name Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, does a fine job of confounding any such expectations with “Ripely Pine,” her studio debut out this week on the Ba-Da-Bing! label. The collection is splendidly melodic — pretty, yet powerful.
She says the album’s curve balls are more about her intuition than anyone’s expectations of how her career should go: “After years of playing solo, I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I could hear something else under [these songs]. ... And up until I was in the studio, I didn’t know what that was.”
Spaltro’s quest was to find the missing pieces to the compositions she first honed working late nights in a video store in Maine. The quest brought her from Portland to Boston, where she established herself as one of the top figures on the indie-folk scene; and then to Brooklyn two years ago, where she labored for 12 months with producer Nadim Issa to bring “Ripely Pine” to fruition.
The question of why this album took so long, especially for a folk artist, is the key to why it is so good. Rather than record the battle-tested solo versions of her songs that she had successfully developed in performances — poetry-driven flurries that felt very much in-the-moment and emotionally impulsive — Spaltro borrowed time from talented friends new and old to wrap an imaginary band around her meandering compositions.
“It was very hard for me to know these songs so well on their own and then try to hear them differently, or to have a different mindset open to them being bigger than what they were,” says Spaltro.
She speaks of her songs almost like they are adolescents, tagging along to New York with their creator, trying to find themselves in the world.
“It was a huge challenge finding out what they wanted to be,” she says.
‘I had never heard my music like that’
The final product of “Ripely Pine,” rendered at nearly every moment by the untrained Spaltro herself, sounds as if it had always existed this way. Spaltro sounds challenged sometimes too, as if she’s barely pulling it all off. Luckily for those of us just hearing her for the first time, the growing pains which got Lady Lamb the Beekeeper here won’t be so evident.
Highlights range from the Drag City vibe of “Hair to the Ferris Wheel” to the percolating afro-beat flavors of “Aubergine” to the decadent “You Are the Apple,” where Spaltro turned guitar sketches into a full string section.
“It was mind-blowing,” she says of the experiment. “I was in tears. I had never heard my music like that.”