Good and rough old-timey music has a way of developing into New Lost City Ramblers folk-revival harmonies that are as slick as Dapper Dan pomade—just see the career of the Old Crow Medicine Show, who started out sounding like Dock Boggs and developed into a snore-inducing Prairie Home Companion house band. Breakfast Truce, local folkstress Letitia VanSant’s debut album is pretty, but her warbling voice and minimal acoustic instrumentation keep it on the rough side of the country spectrum. Which is a good thing. She has a big spiel about how folk-musicians, and especially women, ought to get out and play, even if they aren’t virtuosic yet. That spirit, which folk bands share with their punk brethren, animates Breakfast Truce—at least on the surface.
VanSant’s voice is the most striking aspect of the record. It is part Iris DeMent with a little Dolly Parton (and maybe even some Rose Maddox) thrown in. But after repeated listens, the quality of her songwriting begins to come out. She’s a clever woman with a lot to say. She claims that much of her music is motivated by a cross-country bike ride she took as well as her Quaker beliefs, but you don’t have to be a biking Quaker catch the drift. And she doesn’t try to write like she’s living in Tennessee in 1933 either. The outstanding opener, “Macy’s Parking Lot,” makes the eponymous landscape sound as high and lonesome as the riverbank of any murder ballad. And up-paced album standout “Neighbors’ House” turns the lines “Did you see the neighbors’ house burning”? into an incongruously joyous thumper, making you wonder, just what kind of neighbor the peaceful VanSant might really be—until she sings “I admit a tiny part of me wishes we were them/ for such a clear excuse to start again.” Breakfast Truce is a solid start.
Letitia VanSant celebrates her album release at the Windup Space on July 14 at 8 p.m., $5-$20, sliding-scale, with free cd.