Guided by life experiences, Lindsay Lou‘s sound and songwriting continues to evolve and intertwine her sturdy Bluegrass roots with progressive Americana and Folk.” – PBS
“I saw a literal manifestation of the sacred feminine, and had this profound sense that I was meant to embody it,” recalls celebrated singer-songwriter Lindsay Lou after journeying through a hallucinogenic ritual that would inform the way she processed waves of grief in the sea of change ahead of her. The loss of her grandmother, the end of her marriage, and the overwhelming turmoil of COVID lockdowns found the Nashville-based artist on a spiritual journey of self-knowledge and healing with this gift from the mystic swirl. On her new album Queen of Time (due September 29th from Kill Rock Stars), Lou explores that quest across ten tracks of tender, heartbreakingly beautiful music.
With this new vision of womanhood in mind, Lou began to see a throughline from her grandmother, to herself, to the art she was creating. Her 2018 release, Southland (recorded with her former band, The Flatbellys), felt like the first chapter to a greater story that was unfolding; with this release, the theme deepened. “It started with my grandma. She was the unattainable woman in a way,” Lou explains. “She had 12 kids and ran homeless shelters and was always taking people in. She felt that her calling was to be a mother to everyone – this communal caregiver – but it also meant that in belonging to everyone, she also belonged to no one. I realized that this is the catch-22 of anyone who is a woman unto herself. Women, first and foremost, belong to themselves, so nobody can really have them; but, there’s also this element of self-sacrificing and giving to the idea of the feminine.”
Lou’s vocals are a powerful companion to her songwriting. “In an era when style and trends can become genericana, [Lou] focuses on the song,” said No Depression. “It is infectious and joyful, soulful even.” The undeniable centerpiece throughout Queen of Time, Lou’s voice is a molasses-sweet instrument equally capable of clarion ache, slicing deep into the soul. The daughter of a literal coal-miner and millwright, and the granddaughter of a teacher gone Rainbow Gathering healer, Lou honed her honest and resonant style with her bluegrass-inspired band, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, and Michigan supergroup, Sweet Water Warblers (Rachael Davis, May Erlewine), excavating elements of bluegrass, folk, Americana, and soulful pop for their emotional depths. The Warblers’ debut album, The Dream That Holds This Child(2020), was dubbed “a testament to the trio’s range” by Billboard, running the gamut of blues, gospel, soul, and Appalachian folk.
On this latest record, Lou has refined those gemstones to a brilliant luster, holding the listener’s hand on the path filled with heartbreak, discovery, and resilience. On “Nothing Else Matters” (co-written by Nashville musicians Maya de Vitry and Phoebe Hunt), Lou blends those emotions into one vibrant present. The track features GRAMMY® Award winner Jerry Douglas, his immediately recognizable dobro work helping Lou tap into her bluegrass roots while she unravels this new vision of the world. “There is something incredibly iconic to Jerry’s playing; it’s unmistakable,” says Lou. “Like every touch of his bar to the string speaks exactly to the heart of the song. I feel really honored to have his musical voice among the players.”
Lou explores the continued theme of duality on lead single and album namesake “Queen of Time”, her limber, golden vocals backed by a suite of acoustic guitar, psychedelic synth and an energetic rhythm section. The song’s lyrics play out like zen koans. “I’ve spent years at this point, listening and reflecting on this record. ‘Queen of Time’ seems to embody the entire work’s theme of self-discovery in a way that almost feels like a wake up slap in the face; like if it was a snake, it would have bit me,” says Lou. “And I think that’s kinda the nature of self-discovery. It’s discovering something you knew all along.”
On the radiant “On Your Side (Starman)”, Lou sings to a loved one through rose-colored glasses, as if they were her hero. “You can be the starman/ The lightning in the sky/ I will be a shelter/ ‘Cause I am on your side,” she sings, a lithe mandolin bolstering her serene offer of support. Bathed in harmonies and supported by a honeyed troupe of pedal steel, guitars, and a splashy percussion section, Lou sounds like a heroine herself, a gleaming bastion of strength and love.
Elsewhere, “Nothing’s Working” finds Lou dueting with GRAMMY®-winning guitar virtuoso Billy Strings on their co-write. (You can hear String’s version of it, accompanying Lou, on his 2020 release Renewal). “This was another track that came together over the course of a few years; it lived as the first verse alone for a long time,” recalls Lou. “A suicide in our community stirred me to finish the lyrics, and pandemic gave Billy and I some extra time at home to flush it out.”
The message comes through in the lyrics as Lou sings, “Take time to listen to the quiet ones/ Watch how the rain gives up a chance to swim/ Burn the broken bridges and build them up again,” the duo crying out for change in the face of the endless pain and violence in personal lives and spread across the media. String’s flat-picked guitar ripples and writhes, a deep purple smoke pervading the track.
“I’ve been fortunate to have spent formative years surrounded by immensely talented friends and collaborators, who, like Billy, feel more like family at this point.” explains Lou. “Having them lend their voices to this record is very special to me.”
Lou’s devotion to understanding where she came from plays a central role not only in the ethos of Queen of Time, but in its sound. “I have 27 hours of conversations that I recorded with my grandma, her telling me her story and explaining how she developed her unorthodox, somewhat radical, somewhat fringe philosophy,” Lou says with a wistful smile. Snippets of those recordings are infused into the album, as in the delightfully Calypso-flecked “Love Calls”. And as the album nears its end, another call to grandma helps exorcize the pain of death. “Nothing can stay bad forever,” Grandma Nancy reminds us, and you can feel the tears being wiped aside and replaced by something new—hope and resilience.
Named among NPR’s “12 Best Live Performances” in 2015, Lou has long been beloved as a live performer, from Telluride Bluegrass Festival to Stagecoach, Celtic Connections to Australia’s National Folk Festival, and a “Can’t Miss Act” at AmericanaFest—not to mention acclaim from PBS, No Depression, Billboard, Holler, Paste, and The Bluegrass Situation, among other outlets. But on Queen of Time, Lou captures a new arc of haloed beauty, becoming unattainable in her own way—a vibrant, powerful woman who can share herself with the world, and yet define a mystic sense of inner self as well.