Speed has always been central to the Della Mae value proposition. When the group formed in 2009, they turned heads not just for being an all-female string band — tragically uncommon, then and now — but also for the sheer velocity of their barreling bluegrass. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, then, that The Butcher Shoppe EP — something of a comeback, following a brief recording hiatus — clocks-in at just six songs in 21 minutes. That’s plenty of time for the Boston-based band to blaze through plenty of music and cover a lot of ground; even working within such a tight frame, The Butcher Shoppe winds up being a robust testimony to Della Mae’s depth and breadth. For those who like their string band virtuosity served straight, there’s “No-See-Um Stomp” — the album’s lone instrumental and one of a few team-ups with rising star Molly Tuttle, a rollicking three minutes of sawing fiddle and frenzied banjo picking. There’s a locomotive power to Della Mae that’s irresistible, yet there’s also rich conceptual sophistication to their music.
Listen to an album-closing cover of “Whipping Post,” which swaps-out the heavy riffs of the Allman Brothers for limber acoustics, yet still conveys the song’s stadium-filling angst and aggression. (Note also the sly subversion of these ladies preserving all the song’s original pronouns.) The Allmans’ epic brooding finds a playful mirror image in “Bourbon Hound,” a liquor-loving original that splits the difference between Vaudevillian soft-shoe and zippy Western swing. Elsewhere, the group pledges allegiance to the folk tradition, while proving how gracefully they can make it their own; they bring just the right theatrical flair to the lurching momentum and mounting drama of “Sixteen Tons,” a coal miner’s lament that’s often played with severity, but which here sounds gleefully cathartic. Pleasures abound on this small but jubilant record, and there’s little use trying to predict what the next one will be; instead, just hang on and try to keep up.
Published as part of Rooted & Restless | Issue 2