Album Review: Lulu Mae "Mean River"

A listen to Lulu Mae's second full-length effort

By: Terra James-Jura

June 12, 2014

Band releases an amazing, gritty folk-rock opus; goes on hiatus.

 Lulu Mae has been a bastion in Nashville’s healthy contingent of folk rockers, not only in quality but in numbers.   For several years Lulu Mae has been building the audio equivalent of thumbing through a salvaged photo album.  And at 7 members strong, all of some manner of blood-or-law relations (brothers and spouses) it makes for quite a hootenanny.

However, underneath the group’s homespun exterior are the bones of a rock band. Lulu Mae is like a pack of golden retrievers: cute and endearingly wholesome,  but still animals at their core, completely capable of tearing a critter (or audience) to shreds.  While this is certainly evident in their live show, this capacity has not been showcased as well as their 2nd full-length album, “Mean River.”


The early release of single “Memphis Woman” was a tip-off of the increased percentage of grit to their music-making.  Its an absolute rocker, leading in with a dancey bassline quickly fortified by bluesy guitar distortion and organ.  The song served the purposes of luring in album preorders, rattling down roadhouses and alluding to some of the heavy stuff “Mean River” was going to dig into.


“Mean River” takes on a darker tone than Lulu Mae’s previous work, both musically and in the subject matter. Spirituals such as “My Sins Cover Me” offer  a counterpoint to the rip-roaring title track.  Rousing march-and-fight anthem “The One We Do Together” is packed with existential  questions of life and death. There’s something very Magnolia Electric Co. in the slow way track 6, “Summertown” unwinds itself, doubling its despair with every cymbal crash as the narrative of two doomed lovers unfolds.    


Lulu Mae retains plenty of their heartfelt folkiness, with numbers like “Throwin’ Punches” and “Potomac” snuggling right up to The Lumineers and The Head and the Heart.  This will never change. While it may be a stretch to place Lulu Mae outside the realm of folk, it is certainly not hard to accept the shot of rock and roll the band slings alongside it.  

At the moment, lead vocalist and driving force Joel Finley is about to start his first year of medical school in Memphis, effectively putting the band on hiatus for an indefinite amount of time.  This adds an extra amount of weight to “Mean River;” it’s their departure before their departure (albeit temporary.)  While the band is in a very gray area at the moment (c’mon, we’ve all seen ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ That stuff changes people, man.) they’ve created an album that they can be proud of as a legacy, or hopefully just as a holdover.