Lily & Madeleine
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“Participation in an art . . . as the Middle West has encouraged so many of its young to discover for themselves, is a way to make one’s soul grow.”
The great Hoosier novelist Kurt Vonnegut could have been writing about Lily & Madeleine when he penned “To Be a Native Middle-Westerner,” his funny and touching essay championing the Midwest in general and his hometown of Indianapolis in particular.
When the Indianapolis sisters first started making music together, it didn’t cross their minds that they could make a living at it. Although they now find themselves in an acclaimed full-fledged career, what got them here has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the spirit.
“The music will always be first,” says Lily. Indeed, Lily & Madeleine’s artistic souls are obvious to anyone who has heard their lovely, ethereal recordings. From the beginning, the sisters’ calling card has been the breathtaking and intuitive union of their voices. When the two come together in ecstatic and seamless “blood harmony,” it’s a sound that continues to haunt long after the songs are sung, leaving an electrical charge behind like a sparkling tracer in the air. Lily & Madeleine are as distinctive as soloists as they are as harmony singers. When they step out individually as vocalists, Lily’s warm, smoky alto is the counterpoint to Madeleine’s crystalline, bell-like soprano.
Those who first fell in love with the disarming beauty of Lily & Madeleine’s voices on their debut EP “The Weight of the Globe” and their full-length follow-up “Lily & Madeleine” will find the same otherworldly harmonies on their new release “Fumes.” With ten dazzling tracks, this record finds the sisters once again teaming with esteemed producer and manager Paul Mahern and stellar songwriting collaborator Kenny Childers.
As the sisters have grown as people and artists, so has their sound evolved. The scope is broadened here. The music is expansive, the instrumentation multi-layered. This is an entrancing production that allows both singers to stretch out in new directions. Like the sun slanting through a window in a Vermeer painting, it’s an experience that captures the subtleties of both shadow and light.
Lyrically many of the songs on “Fumes” tremble with loss. Shards of poetry touch on the aftershocks of a broken heart and relationships grown cold. Eyes cast downward and away. Skies are empty and filled with a growing chill.
Though the loss is palpable, so is the resilience. Tucked into these songs are references to arrivals and departures, the importance of taking control of one’s life and the need to set aside fear and move forward. “Heart on your sleeve and hands on the wheel,” Lily & Madeleine sing on “Ride Away.” It’s an apt summation of this moment in the duo’s artistic life. While the material is emotionally vulnerable, it also finds Lily & Madeleine settling more deeply into their roles as co-pilots of this striking and majestic music.
As young as they are, Lily, 17, and Madeleine, 19, are their own women. Their songs acknowledge childhood’s end and announce the entrance into adulthood, a place where the road ahead is a wild card. “Next stop somewhere between home sweet home and a place unknown,” they sing on “Peppermint Candy.”
For Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz, “home sweet home” is central Indiana, specifically their hometown of Indianapolis and their recording base of Bloomington. It’s a region of the country that has long been something of a great musical secret hiding in plain view. Take a closer look at the Bloomington-Indianapolis nexus and you’ll find a most complex piece of American artistic real estate and the roots of Lily & Madeleine’s raising.
Both Indianapolis and Bloomington are home to several of the most progressive indie record labels in the country, including Secretly Canadian in Bloomington and Lily & Madeleine’s Indianapolis-based label Asthmatic Kitty Records.
Indianapolis teems with its own unique musical heritage. The city’s hallowed jazz scene produced such greats as J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, David Baker and Wes Montgomery and featured dozens of thriving clubs along Indiana Avenue. When punk hit decades later, the city responded with its own distinctive take on the music. Producer Paul Mahern burned up the Indy clubs as lead singer of the Zero Boys, an influential hardcore band currently having its own resurgence.
Bloomington is where Hoagy Carmichael lived and wrote his iconic standard “Stardust.” It is the classic college town where seminal punk outfit the Gizmos thrived. Where southern alternative rock heroes R.E.M. recorded their critically acclaimed album “Lifes Rich Pageant.” Where gothic folk-rockers Murder By Death and respected folkies Carrie Newcomer and Krista Detor live. Where one night after a Farm Aid planning session, local John Mellencamp and his guests Lou Reed and John Prine took the stage at a local bar unannounced and played until the 3 a.m. closing bell.
And it is where, at last year’s 20th annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, Lily & Madeleine were runaway favorites.
There’s a reason singular artists hail from or are drawn to this part of the country. Central Indiana is a rural land of old-school country diners, barns, cornfields and rusted silos peppered with urban enclaves of industry and art. It’s a place that accommodates various and vibrant bohemian scenes. Alternative rock bands flourish side by side with old-time bluegrassers and Celtic music aficionados. This is a Hoosier scene that develops, supports and inspires its artists.
Lily & Madeleine came of age here and it shows in their personalities and music. Polite, articulate and infused with a solid Midwestern work ethic, the sisters have soaked up the legacy of the landscape. “We love Indiana so much,” says Madeleine. “The people we’ve gotten to work with here. Our friends and family. No matter where we go later in life, it will always be our home.”
The sisters join a long line of Indiana folks who have made big splashes in the world including James Dean, Joshua Bell, David Lee Roth, Red Skelton, Jane Pauley and those iconoclastic culinary businessmen Orville Redenbacher and Colonel Sanders. Roy Halston Frowick spent early years in Indiana before reinventing himself as the iconic fashion designer Halston. Like Vonnegut, future funny man David Letterman was born and raised in Indianapolis.
To the west, Terre Haute produced the great American novelist Theodore Dreiser and the socialist and political activist Eugene V. Debs. Abraham Lincoln spent fourteen formative years in the state. The legendary gangster John Dillinger was born and raised in Indy. Decades later the notorious couple of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Bill and Emily Harris, attended Indiana University.
What do they have in common, these writers and musicians, actors and activists, comedy show hosts and criminals? They were dreamers all. Indiana allowed them the space to grow and develop and work on their vision outside the glare of big city lights. Unlike the hustle and bustle of urban centers on the coasts, this area of the Midwest has an unhurried nature that allows folks to flourish at their own pace.
It is a land that allows time and space for dreaming. It is a place for being and becoming. It encourages the making of art for its own sake, which is always the best kind.
It is the kind of art Lily & Madeleine deliver. The sisters are grounded enough in the soil of this land to let their vision flourish and fly.
“To grow up in such a city…it was reasonable for a young person to daydream of becoming some sort of artist or intellectual,” Vonnegut wrote about his time in Indianapolis. “So I did. So did many like me.”
It seems fair to say that Vonnegut would have recognized kindred spirits in Lily & Madeleine. He would have quickly discerned in their voices the sound of two young artists singing for the sake of the song.
— Chrissie Dickinson