It's not exactly Stevie Nicks releasing her first solo album post-Fleetwood, but it's hard not to listen to Anna Lombard's first release with her new post-Gypsy Tailwind band, Anna and the Diggs, without comparing and contrasting. Nicks's Bella Donna sold eight million copies, which was enough to show she could do just fine on her own, thank you very much. Hopefully, it's not too much of a diss to say that River Girl probably won't approach that kind of success.
To continue the analogy, Nicks was already an accomplished songwriter when she joined Fleetwood Mac for the Rumours album. Her "Dreams" was actually the album's biggest hit. Lombard, however, is writing her own material for the first time on this first EP, and it shows. Not yet settled into her own personal style, each song sounds a little like, "What if I wrote a song like this?"
Which puts her band — drummer Chris Dow, bassist Colin Winsor, guitarist Max Cantlin, and mandolinist Ben Trout — in the position of trying to play along in ways that might not be geared to their personal strengths.
Take "Taste." It's aggressive rock, like Lombard doing ZZ Top, and Cantlin's riff is a bit by the numbers. But when it dials back to something more bluesy, he tosses in a run in the left channel that's delicious. In general, it's like a band wearing a costume — Lombard's nearly shouted "you only want me when you want me" in the finish is nicely delivered, but I don't believe it, or the guitar solo that follows.
This is an album where you listen for the moments when everything locks in.
"River Girl" opens like a Widespread Panic tune, with nice playful bass from Winsor, and appears to be your basic jam tune — until the post-chorus when the handclaps come in and Lombard starts riffing on the word "home" in a way that's soulful without trying to be and then gives way to a classic Cantlin solo with great tone. Better yet is the second time we get the same post-chorus, filled with a tasteful sax solo by Ryan Zoidis that takes us all the way to the finish.
"Are You OK?" has the best use of Trout's mandolin chunk as a rhythmic element, and the first really big chorus, but the moment here comes in the bridge, when Lombard's vocals are doubled and the vibe gets pretty indie: "All I really want to know, is that you're okay/Are you okay?" There's no trouble believing that whatsoever.
Lombard has a solo record (i.e., no Diggs) slated for the fall, and we'll be hearing plenty from this band going forward, so consider this something of an experiment. Even at that, it's not like it blows up in anyone's face.
RIVER GIRL | Released by Anna and the Diggs | with Doubting Gravity + Megan Jo Wilson | at the Big Easy, in Portland | June 2 | annaandthediggs.com