Violet Bell: Honey in My Heart


[Self-released; Oct. 11]

In a crowded field of Americana artists who claim influence from disparate genres, though often with little evidence to support the claim, Durham duo Violet Bell truly pushes against the limitations and expectations of genres and genders on its debut LP, Honey in My Heart.

Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez, who lead the project, are responsible for much of the magic, from his squalling, psychedelia-tinged violin climax on the otherwise-placid title track to her catchy, fluttering vocal hook on the sultry, organ-abetted R&B of “Elephant Heart.”

But they’re also supported by a stellar local cast: Carter Minor’s lonesome harmonica and Daniel Chambo’s haunting flute enhance the dramatic moods of “Smoke in the Night” and “Mountain Song,” respectively, while the breezy “Summer Skin” features jazzy piano from Joe MacPhail.

It also finds Ross poking fun at mainstream Nashville’s idealized country woman, including a refrain featuring lines like “sunburn, mosquitoes, dirt between her toes,” with harmonies by Rissi Palmer and Shana Tucker. Ross again takes aim at unattainable images of perfection on “Ugly Part,” backing it up with a no-overdubs approach to recording, while “Swimming Towards Sharks” addresses the normalization of sexual violence.

The themes aren’t all heavy. Austin McCall’s jaunty rhythm propels “Juliana,” with harmonica and fiddle fueling a lighthearted ode to the band’s favorite YouTube yoga instructor. But smack in the middle of the eleven tracks, “Howl” serves as a thesis of sorts, acting as both at tribute to matriarchal figures who sacrificed their own ambitions to raise children and as a rallying cry to resist categorization.

Ross’s soulful vocal gymnastics sound downright wild on the refrain, “howl at the moon if you want,” as metaphors such as “let your teeth grow long” urge an untamed existence. Fortunately, Violet Bell takes its own advice by defying stylistic bounds.

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