Neyla Pekarek left the Lumineers last year to pursue a solo career. She clearly had something else to say, and some other musical avenues to explore. And even though she is internationally famous, all those roads charmingly lead back to northern Colorado.
The Lumineers’ rollicking, foot-stomping hit “Ho Hey” ruled radio in 2012, and firmly established them as “America’s answer to Mumford & Sons,” as Rolling Stone magazine wrote.
Pekarek broke away from her bandmates to create a very different kind of roots rock on her debut album, “Rattlesnake,” produced by M. Ward of Monsters of Folk and She & Him. She steps out from behind the cello to show off her powerful and classically trained voice, which sounds like a tamer Neko Case.
She uses the voice atop some classic doo wop, blues and country rock tracks united by the story of Rattlesnake Kate.
A northern Colorado homesteader aptly named Kate Slaughterback apparently was out hunting with her son when she happened upon a rattlesnake, and shot it. Then she realized she had disturbed a huge rattlesnake den, and ended up clubbing 140 snakes to death with a handy nearby sign. Somehow, her story had been lost to history, and overshadowed by other frontierswomen, until Pekarek’s album.
“I’m better than that showbiz queen. Annie Oakley’s got nothing on me,” Pekarek sings, channeling Kate, on the anthemic standout “Better Than Annie.”
After first learning about Kate at the Greeley History Museum, Pekarek dived deep into her story. She read hundreds of Kate’s letters, including many to Col. Charles Randolph, also known as Buckskin Bill. The letters come to life in a poignant, funny and sweet ballad duet, “Letters to the Colonel,” performed with actor Brian Cronan, a UNC graduate and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse alum.
Cronan also returns later on the album to apologize to Kate, sort of.
“It’s not that I’m untrue, let me mansplain this to you,” he sings. “There’s just so many fish in the sea.But please don’t stop your letters, they make me feel so whole. But I should mention, don’t send them to me at home.”
It’s a perfect example of the album’s old folklore told in traditional styles with a modern sensibility.
– Steve Graham