The past 16 months have been a whirlwind of excitement, growth and joy for Gainesville’s Flat Land, the quintet which has just released the band’s first full album, Arrow to the Sun. They are about to play their third Purple Hatter’s Ball and have dazzled at last year’s Great Outdoors Jam and Hometeam New Year’s Rally and at Orange Blossom Jamboree and Tropical Heatwave this year.
Two of their biggest accomplishments have been performing at Suwannee Hulaween and this March playing the main stage at the inaugural Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival. They have toured the Southeast before, and this Friday begins their tour which will take them to shows in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York.
So just who are these Flat Land people anyway? Their brand of “ethereal funk fusion” comes from: Fae Nageon De Lestang, violin, vocals; Christopher Storey, guitar, background vocals; Grant McLeod, drums; Ian McLeod, percussion, keyboards; and Brandon Miller, bass. In addition to the impressive list of festivals, they have played dozens and dozens of shows as well, creating a stir wherever they go, including a stunning three-and-a-half hour show June 9th at the Ringside in St. Petersburg.
Arrow to the Sun is a superb recording, excellently mastered by Tony Tyler Productions (Tony is the front man for Come Back Alice and his own band as well). Fae’s vocals are crystal clear, and each instrument sparkles in the mix.
The first single from the album is track 1, “Poco a Poco.” A violin intro leads to Fae’s distinctive vocals. The Latin groove in this bouncy tune gets even stronger when Fae scats over pizzicato violin. The funk is strong with this rhythm section: Miller, McLeod and McLeod. They power through the entire album. Storey’s chunky, funky guitar lays a solid bed for violin and vocal.
“Say You Cared” is a short intro to the next song, “Black Rain.” Storey’s guitar work here is laid back, the spaces as important as the notes. Fae’s brief short vocal sets up “Black Rain,” which has just been released as the second single from the album. (The video included here is from a year ago, a submission to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series, before Miller and Ian McLeod joined the band. It includes the “Say You Cared” intro.)
Fae’s vocals continue, and there is some great multitracking of her voice later in the tune. Story plays a beautiful guitar figure behind violin and vocal. Grant’s drums and Fae’s vocals are in perfect sync. She takes a short violin solo before the song seems to end, then returns. The second half of the tune changes direction a bit, and Storey’s solo underneath the track is excellent.
Violin introduces “Feeling,” a fan favorite at shows. Storey works more magic with her vocals, and the funk starts in ernest as the band falls in. It gets funkier still as Ian’s tambourine adds to the mix. Guitar once again is perfect, and Fae’s adds lots more vocalise. Guitar and violin then pair up for the coda.
Flat Land covers several Led Zeppelin songs, and “Turn” starts with that feeling, heavy violin. It immediately takes a Latin turn as she sings, “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.” A straight-up Latin break finds Fae scatting over pizzicato, then Storey exploding for a superb solo. Storey is a tremendous shredder, always heard to advantage live. More wonderful vocalise ends the song.
“Dust to Night” is another short intro before the following track, just Storey on acoustic guitar accompanying Fae’s vocalise. That segues into “In the Doldrums,” which starts out softly (relatively speaking). Fae then takes a tremendous solo with Storey abusing his wah-wah pedal underneath. Finally, Fae’s vocals and Storey’s wah-wah have the last word.
One more short intro piece, “Can We,” again features Storey with haunting guitar work and Fae’s vocals. The drums enter subtly near the end, setting up “Relax Retry.” Call it what you want; it is kick-ass awesome.
It rocks out with Fae’s wah-wah violin, Storey’s chunky guitar upping the funk level. “You are the only… only one I want,” she sings. Once again, the rhythm section blows this up. When you hear this song, you understand why people are dancing at Flat Land shows start to finish. Fae plays a short solo, and then Storey does more very bad things to his wah-wah. Fae’s vocals simply shimmer and shine here.
And that leaves “Rufio’s Last Stand,” which was featured on the band’s previous EP. This is another Zep-esque tune, rocking hard from first note to last, especially during the choruses: “Put one foot in front of the other and head off down that line.” Miller’s bass really shoves this song into overdrive. Storey is wailing, and Fae’s violin and then vocal are riding atop the storm.
It is easy to talk about violin, lead guitar and vocals, but be sure to listen to this album cranked up to get the full effect of Miller, McLeod and McLeod, because they flat-out rock. Grant’s time is superb, and brother Ian’s percussion adds a huge dimension to the group. And now he has added keyboards, yet another dimension that will surface on the band’s next album; yes, they already have more than a half-dozen songs in the works. And Miller is the secret ingredient with that deep, dark funk.
Arrow to the Sun is a great introduction to a band with the ability and personality to make a big splash on the national scene. Do yourself a favor: go the the band’s Kickstarter page to pledge to get a digital copy right this very second. You’ll be very glad you did. Check out their official website. Then see them live when they hit your neck of the woods. You’ll be even more glad!
Photographs by kind permission of Matt Hillman, Mandi Nulph and John Wayne Phillips.