Album Review: Della Mae, ‘Family Reunion’

A new Della Mae album is always a real treat, for their soaring harmonies, ringing lead vocals, and crisp instrumentation conjure a magical sound that echoes through the chambers of our hearts.

Family Reunion launches with “These Songs,” itself worth the price of the album, a gorgeously complex tune that opens with a subtle jazz inflection before blossoming into a bluegrass jaunt that maintains a jazz undertone. The instrumental bridges themselves create an almost symphonic soundscape as each instrument chases down its own notes in mesmerizing counterpoint, while the verses sing with a knowing wistfulness of life lived on the road and wondering what the post-pandemic life on the road might be like. The poignant “Goodbye My Friend/Waltz for Lois” dances slowly across the grooves with spiraling harmonies and haunting fiddle to close the song. Somewhere John Hartford is smiling about Della Mae’s take on his “You Don’t Have to Do That,” a rollicking, scampering old-time rambler that offers every instrument a chance to stretch out on instrumental interludes following each refrain. In response to the verse’s opening line, such as “now why you got to spend all that time in front of the mirror?,” for example, Della Mae responds by calling out each band member to illustrate why none of them has to do that; for example, on the first refrain, the final line shouts out to Kimber: “You’re beautiful, and you always come through like Kimber’s gonna do, jammin’ on the violin.” Ricky Skaggs has nothing on Maddie Witler, whose lightning-fast mandolin runs never miss a note. The straight-ahead bluegrass romp “The Way It Was Before,” which Woodsmith wrote with Mark Erelli, echoes with a fervent gospel-like urgency as it catalogs the injustices in American society, resiliently declaring that “we can’t go back to the way it was before.” Hazel Dickens would be proud of Della Mae for capturing the aching candor and haunting down-on-the-porch musical purity of Dickens’ “A Few Old Memories,” while the album closes with a circling and shimmering chamber folk piece, “The End,” that recalls The Roches’ lilting, ethereal harmonies.

Every song on Family Reunion is a little gem of perfection. They shine brightly in all musical facets, with every note in its place but often leading us down unexpected paths. We listen closely to these songs so we won’t miss those astonishing and enchanting moments of musical genius that Celia Woodsmith, Kimber Ludiker, Vickie Vaughn, Avril Smith, and Maddie Witler drop so effortlessly into every measure.

Family Reunion is available HERE.

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