For their third album, Brooklyn blues-rock duo She Keeps Bees headed out to a secluded cabin in the Catskill Mountains, presumably to escape the claustrophobic confines of their usual urban setting. Their rural surroundings imbue Dig On – their first release since 2008′s Nests – with a sense of space, sure, but you would never mistake these escapist New Yorkers for natives of the Mississippi delta.
Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant, on guitar/vocals and drums respectively, make up another in a long line of blues-rock bassless duos from White Stripes to Black Keys. Larrabee, though, seems more interested in her guitar’s ominous clean tones than in fuzzy distortion, and her voice has no trouble taking the forefront. On that count, it’s hard not to compare her to PJ Harvey or Cat Power, but it’s a lazy comparison. She’s got her own chops, and an almost hypnotic lackadaisical approach that is at once lulling and imposing.
The instrumentation is pretty spare and stripped down, with few overdubs (the organ accompaniment on Make You My Moon, for instance). The duo also experiment with alternative instrumentation (a lot like The White Stripes and their marimba obsession), and All Or None/Dark Horse is a prominent example, beginning a capella and building into heavy drums and pounded organ, and eventually collapsing into a pounding, frantic drum solo.
Jupiter Deep is jazzy and loose, all rimshots and slowly escalating guitar volume. Blind To The Cup brings in a wonderfully smoky lower-register organ line, snaking and syncopating over LaPlant’s splashy ride symbol. She Keeps Bees are at their heaviest on the slowly pulsing Vulture, a rare glimpse of the full-on loud/quiet dynamics of the duo’s earlier albums. This is also a chance for Larrabee to test the ceiling of her vocal range, wailing “Power! Power! Power!” over writhing drums.
Calm Walk In The Dark is an appropriate soundtrack for a moonlit stroll through the woods, free of mystery or consequence. Dig On finishes with Burn, a song that fizzles the album out slowly. Larrabee sings siren-like over LaPlant’s minimal floor-tom/tambourine beat for a while, and before you know it, the tune is over, never building, never realising its potential.
Dig On as a whole is a lot like that; it’s a hip, appropriately (if not authentically) bluesy album for a new generation unversed in the blues classics that inspired Jimmy Page and Keith Richards, and it never quite succeeds in sticking the way its most recent forebears have. But maybe that’s all right. You can take the band out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the band.