Lake Street Dive Photo by Shervin Lainez

Lake Street Dive has been slinging smiles, sass and, best of all, sensational tunes since the mid-2000s. Their Saturday night show at Thompson’s Point with opener Allison Russell has been sold out for weeks.

The band’s seventh album, “Obviously,” was released in March and debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Top Albums chart and reached No. 1 on the Americana/Folk chart.  The first single, “Hypotheticals,” went all the way to No. 2 on the AAA chart and hit the No. 1 spot in both noncommercial and Americana radio singles.

The tune is bright and bouncy with crackerjack lyrics: “I’ve been playing out a lot of hypotheticals in my mind/I’ve been writing your name down next to mine.” The rest of the album dazzles with tracks like “Hush Money,” “Being a Woman” and the acapella closer “Sarah.”

Singer Rachael Price has one of the most distinct, warm voices out there, and Lake Street Dive continues to soar in popularity with a hybrid sound infused with jazz, funk, rock and a vintage vibe.

Along with Price, Lake Street Dive is stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney, keys player and vocalist Akie Bermiss and drummer Mike Calabrese. Founding member, guitarist and sax player Mike “McDuck” Olson recently – but amicably – parted ways with the band.

Lake Street Dive’s “Obviously” album cover. Image courtesy of Nonesuch Records

Price spoke about “Obviously” from her home in Brooklyn, New York. While she was hesitant to pick a favorite track, she did say that she particularly loves singing “Anymore,” written by Bermiss. “It’s a quiet moment in the show, and and I think it’s one of the most beautiful ballads I’ve been able to perform.”

One of the most fun tracks on “Obviously” is the clever “Know That I Know” with these opening lines: “Yeah we’re like baseball and hot dogs/You’re Ferris Bueller and I’m your day off/The E Street Band and the Boss/You know you’re my happy clouds and I’m Bob Ross.” For Price, however, the track is all about the bridge. “It’s so cool and interesting, and it fits perfectly with the song in this weird way, and that’s one of my favorite moments on the whole record.”

“Obviously” was produced by Mike Elizondo, who has worked with a long list of well-known artists, including 50 Cent, Eminem, Twenty One Pilots and Fiona Apple. The band met Elizondo a few years back when he came to one of their shows. Lake Street Dive self-produced 2018’s “Free Yourself Up” and took what they learned from that experience into the studio with Elizondo for the making of “Obviously.” Price said it was helpful that Elizondo is an upright bass player because that’s a specific part of their sound that can be hard to capture. But that’s not all. “He’s a hip-hop producer and an engineer, so he knows how to make the drums sound how we want them to sound.”

Allison Russell. Photo by Marc Baptiste

Opening the show for Lake Street Dive is singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell. Russell is French-Canadian and lives in Nashville. She has a long musical history as a member of Po’ Girl, Birds of Chicago and most recently Our Native Daughters. In May, Russell released her debut solo album, the critically acclaimed “Outside Child.”

“Outside Child” is 11 songs exquisitely merged into a highly personal journey, and it’s a serious contender for my favorite album of 2021. Russell’s voice is lovely and graceful yet also vigorous and sword-wielding when it needs to be. The album features several guests, including Yola, Erin Rae, gospel quartet The McCrary Sisters and The Wailin’ Jennys’ Ruth Moody. Russell sings about the decade-long physical, psychological and sexual abuse she endured by her adoptive father and how her mother, per the album’s liner notes, “pretended not to know.” This is how she introduces it:

Allison Russell’s “Outside Child.” Image courtesy of Fantasy Records

“This is my first solo album. It is acutely personal. It was hard for me to write, harder still to sing, play and share. Also, a relief. Like sucking the poison from a snake bite.”

But here’s the thing. Despite having every reason to sing these songs with the kind of rage only survivors can access, Russell chose a quieter, yet no less effective path for the songs on “Outside Child.”

“4th Day Prayer” has the lines “Father used me like a wife/Mother turned the blindest eye/Stole my body, spirit, pride/He did he did each night.”

Russell also sings about finding refuge by sleeping in a Montreal cemetery. Redemption comes in the refrain with several voices singing with her. “One for the hate that loops and loops/Two for the poison at the roots/Three for the children breaking through/Four for the day we’re standing in the sun.”

With swirls of assorted keys and a steady low rumble of drum beats, the song grooves along an upbeat path despite the heart-rending topic. That’s high art in the form of music.

In “Persephone,” Russell sings about her first love and the solace the relationship offered during a time when unspeakable things were happening to her. “Tap tap tappin’ on your window screen/Gotta let me in Persephone/Got nowhere to go but I had to get away from him.”  The song isn’t a burden to hear though, it’s a blessing.

I spoke to Russell from her Nashville home and asked if she could have ever anticipated the kind of reaction she’s getting to “Outside Child.” “It remains shocking and surreal. I could not have imagined it,” she said.

Are music listeners or, for that matter, humans in general more open to hearing artists share their truth? Russell said that concept is something she’s been pondering a lot, especially during the pandemic and particularly after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Russell pointed out that, despite mixed feelings about social media, she’s come to understand that it’s a way for people to connect in a deeper way and process trauma together. In Russell’s case, the same could be said for music.

Back in 2009, there was no #MeToo movement and platforms like Twitter were new. This was when, with her former band Po’ Girl, Russell first sang about some of her trauma in the song “No Shame.”

“I remember different venues having a problem with me even talking about it during the set and one venue saying that we weren’t welcome back, and it was really about talking about something that makes people uncomfortable,” said Russell. By the end of that tour, Russell was feeling so defeated she thought she’d never want to talk about her past again.

Then she met her now husband, musician J.T. Nero, with whom she has a 7-year-old daughter. This stability and support fostered the environment that led to the creation of “Outside Child,” and the flood gates opened. “I made for the first time the connection between my life and the intergenerational trauma that is also part of my legacy. But it’s not just intergenerational trauma. It’s also intergenerational resilience and strength,” said Russell.

She continued, “Every human on the planet has that incredibly strong scaffolding to stand in front of, because the truth is no matter what our lineages, histories or geographies, every human on the planet is the culmination of long lines of survivors.” Russell said that the past year and a half has forced everyone to slow down and deal with many kinds of losses. “Legacy is finding joy even in the midst of intense loss and trauma.”

In the song “The Runner,” Russell sings about being 17, leaving Montreal and finding deliverance in the form of music. “Then I heard that rock and roll, outside the South Hill candy store, felt myself walking in,” she sings.

Russell said she had been living on her own, either unhoused or crashing with friends, and during that time was struggling badly, self-harming and, to use her own words, “self-hating.” Russell made her way to Vancouver, home to her singer-songwriter aunt Janet Lillian Russell. The move changed everything. Russell got to know her aunt and her circle of friends, and they started inviting Russell into Vancouver’s folk scene.

“I got embraced by the community and I started playing music with different artists. I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

“Outside Child” is available everywhere. The album is a masterpiece. Some of the lyrics take dark turns, some offer prayers about finding joy where you think there isn’t any to be found. And some reach back, way back, to commune with Russell’s ancestors, mostly in English and sometimes in French. All the while, hope and healing take center stage.

Allison Russell opens for Lake Street Dive at a sold-out show at 7 p.m. Saturday at Thompson’s Point in Portland.


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