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The Cripple Lilies: Belle Est La Bete

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: May 24, 2007

The Cripple Lilies fell into my lap three months ago after they sent a letter to the owner of The Saddle Creek Bar (where they're playing Saturday night), which found its way to my in-box, asking for suggestions for locals to open their show.

I clicked to and checked out their music. What came to mind was Mal Madrigal, Midwest Dilemma, and just about any of the lighter, folkier bands from the Saddle Creek stable (the Azure Ray off-shoots, Bright Eyes, etc.). Of course, none of them will be opening the show (The openers are a couple bands I'm unfamiliar with -- Audrey and Barn Burning).




Their new record, La Bete, was co-produced by David Barbe, formerly of Bob Mould's band, Sugar, and recorded at his Chase Park Transduction studios in Athens, a facility co-operated by Andy Lemaster of Now It's Overhead. Pretty good pedigree. After talking to Cripple Lilies frontman Chad Bishop, I discovered he was once fired by Dave Dondero -- an artist that records on Conor Oberst's Team Love label.

"I played mandolin with Dave for about five minutes until he kicked me out of his band," Bishop said. "Actually, I'm not even sure he made the decision to kick me out, but I really wanted to go on tour with him. Instead, he took the rest of my old band, Flatbroke Folk, and renamed them Dave Dondero and the Entire State of Florida."

Dondero lived around Pensacola -- where The Cripple Lilies hail -- for about five years. With that in mind, you'd think the beach town, located an hour southeast of Mobile, Alabama, on the gulf side of Florida, might be some sort of indie music hotbed. Nope. "Most of the bands in our scene are hardcore, punk, metal and hippie jam bands," Bishop said. "We don't fit into it."

Started two years ago with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Lopiccolo, Cripple Lilies plays gorgeous, easy-going, multi-instrumental indie folk reminiscent of Kings of Convenience, Cat Stevens or, yes, recent (i.e., alt-country-flavored) Bright Eyes, complete with layered harmonies, smart lyrics and lush arrangements. They effortlessly create carefree melodies that go from my ears directly to my right foot, which bounces up and down involuntarily to their beat. The instruments are plain ol' piano, flute, bass and drums, maybe a few guitars.

They spent a couple years playing up and down the gulf coast at places like The Green Turtle and The Hammerhead, lounges inhabited by hard-drinking locals who came to Florida to escape everyday life. "They would wind up following us back to wherever we crashed that night, passing out on the couch," Bishop said "It was like being in a Steinbeck novel."

That was followed by a Midwest tour opening for Tom Feldmann & the Get-Rites, "an old-timey blues stomp band," Bishop said. "They play at all the Folk Alliance places, so people always headed for the door when we start playing." Yikes.

Bishop and Lopiccolo wound up recording at Chase Park after hearing recommendations from fellow Pensacola bands This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb and The Deadly Fists of Kung Fu, both of whom had recorded there. Dave Barbe's co-production style consisted mostly of giving fatherly advice. "He's a little league baseball coach part-time," Bishop said. "He took that route encouraging us. He knew when to push and when to back off. He was a great influence."

Together, Barbe and the band tried to create a warm, late-'60s early-'70s analog folk sound. They wound up with a recording that has unusual depth and an organic quality that feels like they're playing across from you in your living room.

Released by Minneapolis label Magnolia Recording Company (owned by Tom Feldmann), La Bete has received almost no critical notice. In fact, Google "Cripple Lilies" and you'll find little more than their website, their myspace and a press release. Like every other band that's done it on their own, Cripple Lilies are struggling to get attention, but Bishop doesn't sound too concerned about it.

"People are hot and cold over us, there's no in between," he said. "It's hard to generate interest with industry people, hard to get them on board with where we're going. We're not doing a lot of screaming; we're not running with a lot of trends."

Bishop said they're motivated by the DIY way of life. "We watched all the work that Dave Dondero did," Bishop said. "He spent quite a few years struggling before he hooked up with people who understood what he was doing. We're making art we believe in. Maybe it isn't commercially viable music, but we like it. Hopefully it'll last beyond our little career."

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Published in The Omaha Reader May 24, 2007. Copyright 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.







"They would wind up following us back to wherever we crashed that night, passing out on the couch. It was like being in a Steinbeck novel.""