Lilah Larson’s ‘Pentimento’

Sometimes it’s hard for fans, ourselves included, to separate a solo artist’s work from the band they’re more often associated with. What Lilah Larson does on Pentimento is take the sonic mushroom clouds and bombastic tendencies that are associated with Sons of an Illustrious Father and strips them raw while baring a glimpse at a more personal side of her artistry. That’s the last comparison – we swear.

To call Larson’s achievements on the album impressive would be an understatement. For starters you have Larson observing the world and self through both telescopes and microscopes. Then you have songwriting that has us ready to drop last names like Harris, Clark, Van Zandt, Williams, and Parsons. Finally you have Larson handling literally almost every instrumental aspect of the recordings, with drums and percussion being handled on a few tracks by Howard Bilerman.

Pentimento is music that’ll make you feel joy, sorrow, confusion, peace, frustration, and calmness. You experience these while going down an assortment of sounds and influences. It’s an album that bookends itself in a clearly expressed manner where “Dear Mountain, Love Valley” is the opening chapter.

A banjo leads the way to a sound that begins to clarify itself. Perceptions and ideas of strength are explored using the ultimate object of strength, a mountain, and the object that knows the future of such a behemoth of said object, the valley. Larson isn’t afraid to question her purpose, place, and fragility in the grand scheme of this experiment called life.

The current and future are ever-present, but you see this view of self in the past as well, in relationships that are both intimate and familial, as well as covering the broader idea of the Aristotelian idea of philea.

The latter is most prominent within “On Inertia.” Lilah Larson declares all of her eggs are in a basket to hell. Grasping at old memories seems an effort in futility, as a classic songwriting structure builds. Friends still mean a lot to her, even if it’s been difficult to stay in touch. This concept is then developed into hope that is built on a shaky ground. Leaders can’t come close to their billing, and a lot of people have said they put up a fight and tried. But when will the fight continue? When will the privilege and solipsism (to use her words) cease? When will the concern, love, and care for the greater community manifest itself?

Familial tension shows up on the previous track. “Father Daughter Ghost” is a tight-rope walk where a parent, presumably a father based on the song title, is seeking to engage. The daughter is withholding, rightly so. You see, it’s difficult to trust and participate without skepticism if what is supposed to be a presence in one’s life is more of an apparition that comes in and out of life. How concerned can one be if this is what the parent does? And it’s an unfortunate question asked by way too many.

Romantic moments come with doubt as well. “tbh” is convincing one’s self that the outcome of a split partnership is okay in spite of what actions may suggest. It makes us think of Delaney & Bonnie in the way it’s a slow dance right before a breakup, something so beautifully tragic with intimacy held tightly as a finality is inevitable. It’s a doubt that can lead to self-loathing and insisting on respecting someone’s desire for space in the hope of keeping something fractured held together, even if it means becoming someone you aren’t, as we see on “Someone Else.”

Beyond all of these moments is something deeper that ties that narrative of Pentimento together – togetherness regardless of circumstance. “Windsinger” is focused on the destructive force of the ‘we’. It’s beyond time to start acting rather than simply sloganeering. Statements nurture the individual, but it does nothing for the whole.

Even a track like “Dink’s Song,” possibly our favorite on the album, has this connection, even if only in mind and spirit. Spirit… yes, something almost spiritual in the way Larson’s words touch like a breeze and deliver chills upon impact. It’s a ballad, one that says, “If I had wings… I’d fly up river to the one I love – fare-the-well.” She will have moved on from a former flame by the end, but they will return. But then the lover will want that connection. Loneliness will simply never advance the utility of society.

“You Are” sees this. You squint your eyes on the dustiness of the track to see a tale of a prodigal travel looking for an isolation they may not believe in. Other people know this particular figure better than they’d like to believe, and they hold true to the fact that this person’s presence is more impactful as a member of the whole. A mid-70s guitar god slow burn shred is culled upon, and you realize that maybe instead of just one person, this is directed at a whole lot of nations of one.

Closing out the album is “Come Home” as it finds the fighting side through a world of solitude. The song ebbs and flows between suppressing an anger and using it positively to go forward. However quiet it may seem at times, it also seems like this is the boiling point the album has been striving towards. You hear “I tried letting go” as it becomes more muffled in the closing moments before a somber ending is reached and reflection begins.

It’s a reflection on so much, but we feel like it all started with a simple connection.

Pentimento is out now. It’s an album we firmly place in the ‘need to hear’ category. Get it now from Lilah Larson’s bandcamp.

10.03.2017 / By Joey Smith