I first came across Lady Lamb The Beekeeper in 2011, in an opening set for Sharon Van Etten at the now-gone Red Palace in Washington D.C. And I’m pretty sure a majority of the people in that small room was being introduced to her songs for the first time that night as well. But as sometimes goes with opening acts, there was a moment when the jittery murmur of the crowd there to see another musician soon died down and eyes turned to the stage where an artist they didn’t know became a new discovery. That night, with just an electric guitar Lady Lamb — a.k.a. songwriter and guitarist Aly Spaltro — put on a compelling short set — and maybe for some, became a name to keep an ear out for.
Spaltro has come a long way since that show. And really, she’s come an even longer way since her time writing songs in the basement of a video store where she worked in Brunswick, Maine. Back then, the songwriter and guitarist recorded under the name Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, and crafted contemplative and uninhibited songs into the early hours of the morning. As one might expect based on those late night writing sessions, Spaltro’s music often begins with intimately sung melodies — but then, suddenly, she crackles with distorted power. It’s a sound that she first honed on stage, where she could enthrall a crowd with just an electric guitar and voice, and later, further expanded on her very fine 2013 debut, Ripely Pine.
Now, with her follow-up, After, Spaltrow subtracts the “Beekeeper” of her moniker, but adds so much more: Lady Lamb’s folk-based rockers are catchier and bite a little harder — thanks to adventurous, swooning arrangements that take advantage of working with a full band. You can hear that in heftier instrumentation in “Violet Clementine” or “Atlas,” but also in the punchy bursts of guitars in songs like “Vena Cava” and “Heretic.” But After also finds Lady Lamb embracing pop hooks (like on “Spat Out Spit”) that bounce in your ears long after the song has faded.
Despite the wider palette, it’s Lady Lamb vivid lyrics that not only tie these songs together, but cut deep emotionally — like in “Billions Of Eyes” where she opens with, “When gravity’s a palm pushing down on your head / Like the devil’s got a paw dug in your shoulder / And the other one is rubbing your back.”
It’s image-rich lines like that that highlight Lady Lamb’s skillful touch with raw, openhearted songs that empower and seethe.