Track Listing (links to MP3 samples):
Two Centuries Later
So Little Current
Motel West Virginia
Crayfish and Crayons
Call of the Llama
Camping with Kermit
Spy Theme II
Eaten or Replanted
One Eye Patch
"Anyone who's been to New Orleans has memories of the jazz and blues pouring out of Bourbon Street's bars. But what about the backwoods bayou music? About 45 minutes from the city, deep inside the Honey Island Swamp, nestled in with the gators, snakes and nutria (20 pound rats with two-foot tails), there's a ramshackle village of about ten homes. It's dead in the winter and empty at Mardi Gras, but by the time July rolls around, its a bustling little party town. If the people who partied here in the summertime all got together to play music around a bonfire, it'd sound like The Letter L. There's no Deliverance kind of creepiness, though; Lowbelly is either happy or sad, and never out to get you.
L is an original and eclectic blend of swing and twang, somehow both hip and genuine, so it's as well-suited to the bayou as it is to a dinner party in a vegan intellectual's Soho dining room. The best part is that you can't box this music into any specific genre; unhinged swamp swing with a few free jazz blasts is the best label I could come up with, but to be honest, Lowbelly are all over the place. It must take them forever to set up for a gig. They color their songs with a million different instruments -- there's accordion bouncing off of keyboards, bells and cello, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitars and banjo making nice with balalaika, harmonica and clarinet. Kalimba, viola and tenor sax walk alongside percussion and something they call a 'circuit-bent electronic toy' (some kind of synth, maybe?). All of this creates an exotic mix of open-ended sound in which players are free to go off in completely different directions. Despite the chaotic assembly, L is mellow and cohesive; the musicians play entirely different parts, and instruments bounce off of, against and beside each other, but the timing is on and they all obey some sort of inner logic that keeps the compositions on key and heading in the same general direction.
'Motel West Virginia' has a classical Spanish or flamenco backbeat. 'Crayfish and Crayons' recalls a barnyard nursery rhyme told by a toothless great uncle; rickety banjo, sax and something that sounds like a xylophone come together with guitar and an occasional cymbal-crash, forming the fairy tale theme. Midway through, there's a free jazz jolt that bridges to the song's upbeat conclusion.
'Spy Theme II' is a slinky bass-based riff that could easily be served as a soundtrack for James Bond or Austin Powers movies. There's plenty of hot jazz and retro swing mixed in here; Squirrel Nut Zippers definitely come to mind, but Lowbelly's sound is more raunchy bayou than tongue-in-cheek hipster sophisticate.
My opinion might have been different if The Letter L had lyrics to dissect, but it's purely instrumental and 99 percent acoustic. All in all, L is a refreshing wash of originality that truly sticks out from the predictability in modern music."
-- Shaun McCormack, Splendid E-Zine
"When the instrumental sextet Lowbelly stumbles through its acoustic circus -- a barrage of quirkiness including clarinet, accordion, bells and banjo -- you feel like you´re living a clever, touching indie movie. 'Amelie,' perhaps. (A troubled French cutie is about to slip you her number in a corner cafe.) On second thought, maybe these lovely tunes are just soundtracks to some crazy burlesque show. Whatever the case, Lowbelly´s music is magical, delightful and entirely unexpected."(four stars)
-- Michael Deeds, Idaho Statesman
"Ah, Lowbelly. It just so happened that I cracked out their last release just days before I set out to review this one. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it says tons about the band's
songwriting. Though their work is entirely instrumental, principal songwriter Tristan Andreas manages to keep things interesting by way of his marvelous atmospheres and catchy, whimsical melodies.
Like previous Lowbelly recordings, The Letter L features an extensive instrument list, with many contributing musicians adding to the fun. An accordion, a clarinet, a kalimba, and even a 'circuit-bent electronic toy' can be heard in this dense, layered, though never stuffy collection of tunes. The songs themselves range from jazzy ('So Little Current,' 'One Eye Patch') to slow and pensive ('DeLuxe,' 'Not Driven') to pure boppy ('Camping with Kermit'). As a result, The Letter L is a mixed bag, but one that is full of many goodies. Blast this sucker loud through your abode - it will make everything you see, think or do seem ten times more fun."