The band Lula Wiles, three women originally from Maine, has been attracting national attention. Left to right are Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland and Mali Obomsawin. Photo by Laura E. Partain

When Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland and Mali Obomsawin first played music together while attending Maine Fiddle Camp  in Montville more than a dozen years ago, they had no thoughts of forming a band.

Nor did they as they became closer friends in high school – Burke in South Berwick, and Buckland and Obomsawin in Farmington. Or when all three ended up at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Or even as they first started playing gigs around the city and found their harmonies blended nicely, as did their expansive views on what folk music can be.

But at some point, Buckland says now, they asked each other, “Wait, are we in a band?”

They were indeed and, about seven years later, still are. As the folk trio Lula Wiles, they’ve released two albums on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Their latest album, “Shame and Sedition,” came out last month and has been garnering national attention. Rolling Stone included the band’s song “Oh My God” – a musical jab at billionaire CEOs – in its “Song You Need to Know” series, calling it a “potent mix of sign-of-the-times analysis, stirring songwriting, and instant pop melodicism.”

“We started by playing around the campfire at fiddle camp, ended up at Berklee, then just playing gigs together. It was all sort of organic,” said Buckland, 28. “It all just sort of developed over time.”

The band’s distinctive name evolved over time too. At first they were the Wiles, sort of jokingly referring to feminine wiles. But they found out another band already was using it. So they decided to use part of a Carter Family song from the 1920s, “Lulu Walls,” about a beautiful, mystifying woman. In their Appalachian twangs, the Carters pronounce the first name Lula. So the new band name became Lula Wiles.


Buckland is currently living in Brooklyn, New York, and Burke is in Portland and Obomsawin has been spending time in Lubec. They had been living in various places outside of Maine before the pandemic, including Nashville and New York City.

When COVID-19 began shutting down everything, the three band members worked remotely, sharing songs they were writing during phone calls. Eventually, they decided to form a quarantine pod, with all of them coming back to Maine in early summer and working on the new album together for several weeks. They recorded “Shame and Sedition” at Great North Sound Society, a live-in studio in a farmhouse in Parsonsfield, near the New Hampshire border.

The folk trio Lula Wiles has been gaining attention for its music from National Public Radio and Rolling Stone. Photo by Laura E. Partain

Some of the songs were written before the pandemic, but several were influenced by it and other events last summer, including the movements calling for an end to racial injustice and income disparity. Obomsawin is a citizen of the Abenaki First Nation at Odanak, so it was meaningful for her to make an album with social justice themes in Maine, part of the Abenaki homeland, her bandmates said.

They finished writing “Oh My God” while in the studio. Burke, 27, said she began writing the song “about economic exploitation” by huge corporations broadly, and about companies like Amazon and CEOs like Jeff Bezos more specifically.

The lyrics are basically a warning to the rich and powerful, that being the few controlling the economic interests of the many can’t last: “Maybe you believe that you will always rule/You may think the world is all complacent fools/But hunger is an engine and anger is fuel/And everybody’s hungry all because of you.”

The song “Television,” written by all three members with Buckland on lead vocals, is also about corporate control of the media. Buckland said it was partially inspired by the Democratic primary debates last year and how the network anchors only asked questions about certain topics and seemed to skip others, controlling the debate.


“It’s a tightening chokehold on what you see/Who points the camera, who points the gun?/If the evidence points back, then why would you screen it?” are among the lyrics.

“The political media and news media are deliberately keeping things from us. And as the debates went on that became more and more frustrating,” Burke said of the inspiration for the song.

Both songs are relatively slow in tempo, with sharp percussion at times and some electric guitar riffs. All three of the members sing on the album and play guitar. Obomsawin plays upright and electric bass, and Buckland and Burke play fiddle.

Members of folk trio Lula Wiles all attended Maine Fiddle Camp as youngsters. Photo by Laura E. Partain


All three members of Lula Wiles have at least one parent who works as a professional musician. They were all exposed to many different kinds of music growing up and saw how difficult it can be to make a living from music. They also saw what it looked like to pursue your passion as your job.

Obomsawin’s father, Tom Obomsawin, is a guitarist who has sung and performed around the state and beyond. Father and daughter play together for fun and in front of crowds at gigs around Maine.


Burke’s parents, Susie Burke and David Surette of South Berwick, have been performing together for some 30 years, and were also instructors at Maine Fiddle Camp. They exposed their daughter to music in the home, took her to gigs and had her younger sister perform with them at times. But they said they tried to balance exposing her to a musical life with not pushing her into one. They knew first-hand it was a tough line of work, in terms of making a living, and you had to be passionate about it to really pursue it.

With plenty of natural ability and an interest in singing and playing instruments since she was a toddler, Isa Burke didn’t need much pushing, her parents said.

“I think growing up in our household, she didn’t go into (the music business) with stars in her eyes. She saw what it was like to try and make a go of it,” said Surette.

Buckland’s father, Andy Buckland of Farmington, is a multi-instrumentalist and upright bass player who has been in several bands over the years. He’s currently in an electric blues band called the Juke Joint Devils that plays around the area. He says his daughter took violin lessons when she was about 5 years old, and over they years, he talked to her about what it takes to make a living in music.

“We talking about booking, practicing, all kinds of things. I hoped to help her avoid mistakes I made along the way,” he said.

After a few years of playing together in Boston and at folk festivals around the country, Lula Wiles recorded an album on their own, and shopped it around. They brought their songs to the Folk Alliance International music conference in Kansas City in 2018 and began getting offers from labels. They signed with Smithsonian Folkways and released the album “What Will We Do” in 2019.


Because of the pandemic, they haven’t performed much to promote the new album, though in May they were interviewed by Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” They talked about making a protest album in the middle of a pandemic, in quarantine.

But they hope to start performing again soon. They are scheduled to play a “micro” version of the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in Hiram, July 23-24. For up-to-date details on that festival and when Lula Wiles will play, go to

The album “Shame and Sedition” was somewhat of a shift for the band, musically, in that it has more of an indie rock sound – with electric guitars and piano – as opposed to a more traditional folk sound of earlier recordings. But it still features many of the same instruments, including fiddle, acoustic guitar and upright bass.

“We take a broad view of what folk music is, and that it’s really diverse and is about the legacy and preservation of a culture,” said Buckland. “Folk music is a living tradition.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.