Deer in the Night
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Wed May 27, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Po’ Girl has undergone its share of changes in the last few years, but rather than sinking the outfit, they have spurred its growth and made it stronger. The band originally started as a side project that united The Be Good Tanyas’ Trish Klein and Fear of Drinking’s Allison Russell. Assuming a life of its own, Po’ Girl not only has managed to outlast both of its predecessors, but it also has become one of the most interesting and diverse roots-oriented outfits touring and recording today.
Longtime fans of Po’ Girl quickly will identify the most obvious difference between Deer in the Night and the group’s trio of earlier endeavors: Both Klein and multi-instrumentalist Diona Davies have left the band, which leaves Russell as the only founding member to remain. The good news is that Klein and Davies’ replacements — vocalist/guitarist Awna Teixeira and virtuoso string player Benny Sidelinger — fit beautifully into the ethos of Po’ Girl’s genre-hopping minstrel-show, which unequivocally makes Deer in the Night the ensemble’s best album yet.
Po’ Girl’s influences typically have run the gamut from hip-hop to vaudeville. Not surprisingly, its approach has been so wide-sweeping in scope that it occasionally has threatened to derail the band’s melodies. Teixeira and Sidelinger, however, have the vocal and instrumental chops that are necessary for smoothly traversing this terrain. Consequently, they evenhandedly carry the songs across a broad range of musical ideas.
Lyrically, Po’ Girl’s songs have never been stronger. The group now sounds as if it has blossomed to the point where it credibly can deliver the hard-luck narratives that it has been sculpting since the release of its self-titled debut in 2003. The material on Deer in the Night exudes degrees of authority and authenticity that sometimes have eluded the outfit in the past. This time around, there’s something ineffable in Russell’s vocal delivery, and it allows her to convey the kind of understanding of her subject matter that can only be provided by the experiences of life. As a result, the characters who inhabit her songs have more depth, and the stories that Russell fashions around them ultimately become three-dimensional. Tracks like No Shame, a harrowing tale of sexual abuse, come across as developed, mature, and masterful.
Like Klein, Teixeira adds country-imbued dimensions to Po’ Girl’s style. Otherwise, the similarities between the musicians end there. While Klein had a lovely sense of melody as well as a pleasant voice, she largely remained in the background. In contrast, Teixeira’s contributions are placed front-and-center throughout Deer in the Night. She is a powerful yet nuanced vocalist whose contributions, such as Gandy Dancer and Dig Me a Hole, are among the best tracks on the effort.
Po’ Girl arose amidst the popular, alt-country scene at the turn of the millennium. Where many of the group’s peers either have altered their focus or faded away, Po’ Girl has proven itself to be remarkably resilient. Transitions can be difficult, of course, and frequently, they have sounded the death knell for fledgling outfits. Yet, Po’ Girl has managed the difficult task of retaining everything that was compelling and beautiful about its original lineup. At the same time, it also has made the sorts of decisions that will assure its continued artistic growth. In other words, with Deer in the Night, Po’ Girl has proven that it has what it takes to survive for the long haul.
Of Further Interest...
Deer in the Night is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box