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Loretta Lynch gives traditional bluegrass a good goosing

Wednesday, Dec 11 2002
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If you ask me, there are really just two types of country bands: those that do a cappella versions of Liz Phair's X-rated song "Flower," and those that don't. Happily, the East Bay's Loretta Lynch belongs in the former camp, and its cover of Phair's ditty says a lot about the group's irreverent approach to musicmaking.

"We wanted to be careful not to be uptight traditional bluegrass," explains Loretta Lynch's singer/guitarist/ accordion player, Valerie Esway. "Not that traditional bluegrass necessarily is uptight, but there are purists, and none of us really wanted to fall into that [trap]."

The four-piece -- composed of Esway (Ramona the Pest), singer/guitarist/mandolin player Ariadne Fellows-Mannion (ex-Hoarhound), vocalist Heather Davison (Hanes Family and the Baroque Choral Guild), and singer/guitarist Joe Rut (86) -- has also been known to follow up a mournful Emmylou Harris tune with a song by indie rockers Yo La Tengo.

The band's eclectic cover choices balance out an equally freewheeling roster of original material, much of which draws heavily on the group's heart-melting three-part harmonies. Each of the Lynchers takes a turn at songwriting duties, resulting in a twangy mishmash of mandolin-plucky bluegrass, soulful murder ballads, and lush singer/songwriter folk.

Despite their short life span together so far (they had their first show in May), the musicians have already landed opening slots for Austin altcountry band the Damnations and sad troubadour Richard Buckner. Not all of their gigs, though, have been at the most, er, traditional of places.

"We've played the Cannabis Club," Esway says, laughing. "They love us over there."

The group was also hired by Kaiser Hospital to perform at a Walnut Creek hospice memorial service. "We were all really nervous," Esway says of the gig. "It was an honor to be a part of it."

Loved by both grieving relatives and registered potheads -- now that's great country music.

About The Author

Chris Baty

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