Rising Star Folk Trio at The Mainstay! $20 online $25 door/phone.
What will we do? For Lula Wiles, the trio made up of Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin, the question is central to the creation of their music—and it’s the title of their new album. “We wanted to make an album that reflected, in a current way, what we are all staying up late thinking about and talking about over drinks at the dinner table,” says Obomsawin. “What is everyone worried about, confiding in their friends about, losing sleep about?” On What Will We Do, the band’s sophomore album, the trio’s voices burn, twist together, mingle, and rise like smoke signaling changes to come. But anchoring that delicate touch is a mastery of folk music —and a willingness to subvert its hallowed conventions.
At its core, What Will We Do is an album centered around songcraft. The lyrics are sharp and the melodies finely wrought. You can hear, too, a growing maturity, a widening worldview. These aren’t your typical lovesick country tunes. “Last night we held a lie between our lips/ Another dead-end kiss,” Buckland sings about the end of a relationship on “Love Gone Wrong.” These are songs of stinging insight, of weary acceptance, of growing resilience.
The songs on What Will We Do speak to the issues of the day, even as they riff on folk music’s tropes. “Is this land yours/ Is this land mine/ The fault lines crack/ And the fists they fly,” Burke sings on “Shaking As It Turns” in a nod to the country’s deepening political divisions. Obomsawin punctures cowboy song nostalgia on “Good Old American Values,” a searing rebuke of American expansionism: “Good old American cartoons/ Indians and cowboys and saloons/ It’s all history by now/ And we hold the pen anyhow.” Sometimes, the best thing to do with an old idea is to turn it upside down.
That’s not to say that no traditional material made it onto What Will We Do. The title track is an Irish ballad—although the band couldn’t resist adding a twist of their own. Says Burke, “We wrote the verse about marrying the banker and redistributing all his money.” Lula Wiles brings new perspective to age-old traditions––above all, the people’s practice of sharing their communities’ struggles through songs. The band exists in the tense space where tradition and revolution meet, from which their harmonies rise into the air to create new American music.