The sister duo of Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who make up the band Larkin Poe, have been nothing if not prolific during their career, releasing six full-length studio albums and five EPs, while guesting on a variety of releases by other artists over the past dozen years.
But the sisters, who grew up in Calhoun, Georgia, and will play the Moon River Music Festival on Sunday, say they were able to be more authentic than ever on their new album, "Blood Harmony." Ironically, they achieved this clearer representation of themselves by making an album in a very different way from how their other Larkin Poe albums were brought to life in the studio.
In the past, making albums has pretty much been a sister show. Aside from their 2014 full-length debut, "Kin," Rebecca and Megan Lovell had self-produced their albums and recorded virtually all the instruments themselves, pairing guitars, keyboards and other instruments with programmed beats to create a marriage of organic and synthetic sounds.
But for "Blood Harmony," they went old school, using live drums, bringing in members of their touring band and playing live in the studio.
Perhaps more fundamentally, the sisters leaned further than ever into their Southern roots and blues and classic-rock influences, which resulted in a song cycle they feel is the best representation yet of the music they want to make as Larkin Poe.
"I do think we've been incredibly fortunate to be a band that continues to burn slowly," Rebecca said in a recent phone interview. "I think over the years we've been allowed the time and space to really spread out and learn the details of how my sister and I work together as a team, what stories we want to tell, how we want to embrace the many different angles of musical interest that we have.
"We were able to grow up listening to a lot of classic-rock records, a lot of classical music, a lot of bluegrass, a lot of country and a lot of different styles that are definitely a part of who we are. ... And I think the years that we've spent together working through the many different pathways has led us to a place where with 'Blood Harmony,' specifically, we were able to just be ourselves and to really fully embrace all of the different parts of who we are.
"And we were born in Tennessee and raised in Georgia and listening to traditional music, traditional American music," she said. "So we just want to be authentic to the deepest, most true bits of our core. And I think of any of the records we've made, this album has definitely brought us the closest to achieving that goal."
Rebecca isn't overstating the pair's extensive musical history. They started out as teenagers in 2005 joining forces with older sister Jessica in the bluegrass/Americana group the Lovell Sisters, debuting as a band at Chattanooga's Mountain Opry. The trio released a pair of albums, toured extensively and made multiple appearances on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show.
The Lovell Sisters disbanded in 2009 when Jessica decided to go to college and pursue other interests. That's when Rebecca and Megan formed Larkin Poe, drawing the name from their great-great-great-great-grandfather, who happened to be a cousin of poet Edgar Allan Poe.
As Larkin Poe, the sisters broadened and amped up their sound considerably, going primarily electric and encompassing not only Americana and bluegrass, but rock, pop, blues and soul, with Rebecca taking on electric guitar, keyboards and lead vocals and Megan playing a variety of instruments, including lap steel, slide and guitar.
The notion of making a live-in-the-studio album wasn't foreign to the sisters, considering albums from the 1960s and '70s were commonly recorded that way. But making "Blood Harmony," Rebecca said, resulted in a good deal of artistic growth.
"I think being able to write this album thinking of the stage and being able to carry that live energy into the studio really made a huge difference in the way that this album has taken us leaps and bounds forward creatively," she said.
As it is, it wasn't like the sisters strayed far from their inner circle in bringing in collaborators for "Blood Harmony." Co-producer Tyler Bryant (of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown) is Rebecca's husband, while the musicians included their touring bassist Tarka Layman, drummer Kevin McGowan (who has been in the Larkin Poe touring band) and Megan's husband, keyboardist Mike Seal.
"He (Bryant) was going to help a lot with distilling our ideas for how to bring the drums into the equation," Rebecca said. "That's something we haven't worked with as much. So I think we knew it ("Blood Harmony") was going to be very rock and roll, very raw, Southern, live."
That's exactly how the album turned out. The live drums inject a new level of energy and muscle to the Larkin Poe sound, while the guitars sting, rip and roar as the sisters' blues roots shine through on the slamming "Bad Spell" and "Might as Well Be Me." Songs like "Kick the Blues," "Bolt Cutters & The Family Name" and "Southern Comfort" are tart and tough rockers with a Southern feel, while some country and Americana seep into the punchy "Georgia Off My Mind" and the title track. Overall, this consistently strong set of songs boasts some of the sharpest hooks the sisters have brought to their writing and plenty of thoughtful and emotional lyricism.
The journey to creating "Blood Harmony," in a sense, began during the pandemic, when Rebecca and Megan played covers on livestreams and recorded the 2000 album of cover songs, "Kindred Spirits," a stripped-back duo album that gave the sisters a test run at recording live in the studio. Delving deep into songs by other artists had a direct benefit when the sisters started writing for "Blood Harmony."
"It's maybe a little bit of a backwards way to go about it, but I think that learning other people's songs actually taught us a lot about our own voice because it's all about interpretation and reinterpreting some of these old songs that we all are so familiar with," said Megan, who joined Rebecca for the interview. "And in taking those songs and making them sound like us, it kind of forced us to distill our own voice, in a way. And of course, always, we're playing these truly iconic songs, and kind of climbing into somebody else's work can help you figure out what the structure is of a good song. So it was really helpful for us learning other people's work, learning other people's riffs and the way that they put a phrase together taught us a lot, especially going into writing for 'Blood Harmony.'"
The way "Blood Harmony" was recorded means the new songs will translate well to the live stage, although it took some thought, work and creativity for the sisters to craft their current live show.
"One of the hardest things about reworking the set list for the new year is figuring out which songs we're going to play because at this point we have released a lot of records, pretty much at least one record a year. So we have a lot to pull from," Megan said. "The set list this year is going to be a lot off the new record. I think we're pretty much going to play all of the songs from the new record. And then we're also going to pull in some old favorites that we've been reworking. ... It's going to be a really fun and energetic set."