If you appreciate anything about bluegrass, Ravens & Crows and its top-notch musicianship and intricate vocal harmonies will soon become a part of your most-played collection. But you might want to keep your listening experience self-contained. Dehlia Low has plastered a rather audacious statement as an unavoidable banner on everything from the top of their website to the “about” page to press releases and promotional materials: depending on which one you come across, it reads something like, “Dehlia Low pushes bluegrass squarely into the emerging Americana genre, combining their tenacious, authentic vocal style with extraordinary instrumental prowess…”
The band members have their chops, that’s indisputable, and I guess you can call vocalists Anya Hinkle and Stacy Claude’s country twang and restrained vocal style authentic. But to say that this straightforward bluegrass album has somehow broken through into clearly defined Americana is pretentious and an unfortunate contradiction. The statement itself makes a nice-sounding, epigrammatic selling point, but it’s ridiculous to present bluegrass as something else. The lines between the two genres are already fairly indiscernible – where bluegrass is a type of American roots music, Americana is just an amalgam of early traditions – and there’s nothing to suggest that Dehlia Low has pushed anything or gone anywhere but where they belong. It’s weird to taint the band as Americana, an imitative and heavily derivative genre, when its style is so nailed-down and plainly and wholesomely bluegrass.
I think what the overzealous advertising means to say, in a more roundabout way, is that this album is accessible enough to be marketable to fans of The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and other artists in the “emerging Americana” genre. It’s come full circle. Americana music was once the antithesis to commercialized country music, and now that idea has been cannibalized and the anti-corporate aesthetic has become a neatly-wrapped package for prospective fans and CD buyers. Ravens & Crows is a stunningly refined bluegrass album regardless of its misnomer/identity crisis. But it speaks to the coming overindulgence of the Americana genre: a bluegrass band is proving it’s now more profitable to mislabel yourself.