This album is out of print. You can still purchase the digital download through iTunes here.
Deep in South Louisiana, many an old-time yard boasts a bountiful fig tree of the variety Celeste. Several gangly trunks spread out from a central root, and the deep-lobed, dark green leaves bring to mind the predicament of Adam and Eve. It takes the blistering summer heat to ripen the brownish-violet fruits, their reddish insides pebbled with crunchy seeds. These figs, at once commonplace and exotic, are delectable by themselves. But cooked together in a heavy pot over a slow fire, with some sugar for sweet and some lemon for zing, they make a local confection called fig preserves that is, well, celestial.
The fertile soil of Lafayette, Louisiana, has recently sprouted the all-girl group The Figs. The area is already home to such young powerhouse bands as the Red Stick Ramblers, the Pine Leaf Boys, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and FeuFollet, ably filling the Cajun, zydeco, and swing niches. With this debut recording session, The Figs push the area’s musical margins farther afield into the old-timey tradition, though there’s nary a holler in sight.
The sisterhood came together with the unbridled enthusiasm of any self-respecting garage band, in order to hang out with friends and have a good time. They admittedly didn’t consider themselves “real” musicians, and there was some initial instrument-swapping as each member found her groove. Now the bottom end is held down by drummer Paige Pemberton and bassist Melissa Stevenson (who occasionally blows the harp as well), while Sarah Gray and Caroline Helm man the electric and acoustic guitar strings. Claire Oliver grounds the group’s Appalachian feel with her claw-hammer banjo, and Jillian Johnson works a plucky tenor ukulele.
While the instrumentation supplies a toothsome biscuit, it’s the three- and four-part vocal harmonies that provide the sweet filling. At times bluesy or cheeky, at times levitating into the ethers, these women’s voices mingle like moon and shine. Their themes range from heartthrob to heartbreak in flavors sweet, sour, and salty, and their playlist includes a healthy helping of smart, sassy originals. Sarah’s aching 3/4, her lilting lament I’m So Tired, and her puckish Transcendental Baby are linchpins of the Fig style; Paige and Sarah collaborated on the regional yet country-tinged Spoonin’, and Jillian’s shuffling Rollin’ Down South shows off her Tennessee roots. Their repertoire also includes dynamic covers from such varied sources as the Carter Family, Mark Knopfler, and fellow local songwriters. From blues to rockabilly to straight-up old-timey and haunting a capella, these ladies make the vintage stuff sound fresh and the new stuff sound retro. A live show finds them all figged out in Depression-era outfits, looking anything but old-fashioned.
In his provocative poem Figs, D.H. Lawrence wrote:
What then, good Lord! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.
Bursting with gusto and grit, this crop is at peak flavor. So spike your lemonade, prop your feet up on the porch rail, and let The Figs kick out your jams.
- Sharon Arms Doucet
1. Cross That Bridge
2. Rollin’ Down South
4. Fall on my Knees
5. My Transcendental Baby
6. Brown’s Ferry Blues
7. Pretending is a Game
8. Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville
9. Little Birdie / East Virginia Blues
10. I’m So Tired
11. Spoonin’ in the Twilight