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By M.J. Fine
The trouble with splitting your heart into pieces — whether you share those shards with different lovers, a pair of towns or a variety of artistic disciplines — is that no one gets enough of your time. To illustrate: Five Hearts was among 2011′s loveliest records, but Lion Versus spent most of the year in flux. Though the Philly-via-Savannah dark-folk ensemble has been hard to pin down, Hilary White and her rejiggered cast of collaborators are again breaking out their guitars, violins, trumpets and more esoteric tools. Catch them where you can; downcast delicacies like “The Unfaithful Bride” and “Flood and Dew” are worth whatever sliver of time Lion Versus can spare.
article by: Bill DeYoung
For two years, starting in 2006, Lion Versus was Savannah’s top neo-folk band. With songwriter Hilary White on vocals, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica and other things, Lion Versus was more like a collective, with musicians coming and going, with White’s quirky southern gothic narratives to the fore, heavy on dark harmonies and arrangements that explored bold new places.
She was a SCAD student at the time. “I started playing house shows when I lived there, and it grew from there,” White explains. “A friend of mine played viola, then there was a violin/cello player and a drummer. We were there for about two years playing out.”
Just after graduation, White got married and relocated to Philadelphia. It didn’t take long for Lion Versus – she decided to keep the name – re-emerged, fluid as always. “The whole idea, for me, was to continually be in a collaborative effort with other musicians, and for it never to be just about one person,” she says. “That’s why I think it’s grown to eight members here in Philadelphia. It’s crazy, but when all of us get together we can make some really great music.”
The Philly players won’t be at this Sentient Bean show, but will feature White performing with several of her original Savannah pals: Viola player Jason Kofke, drummer and sound engineer Will Manning, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Fleming. “He’s an amazing musician who can play almost anything,” White enthuses. “You can put an instrument in his hands, and he plays it.” See lionversus.com
Fourteenth Street Magazine
There’s something in the now-Philadelphia-based group Lion Versus’ sepia-toned, gritty folk that clearly speaks of the group’s Georgia origins; it’s something distinct, alluring, and as Southern as Spanish moss and humid nights on the porch swing. The strings are clean and the vocals are delicate, yet they conjure up an unsettling muddy-riverbank feel. Lion Versus edges toward deeper, darker waters than many of the sunnier, up-tempo acts of the Philly bluegrass revival that share some of the same instrumentation but recreate the sound of the mountains rather than the swamp. Hilary White’s low, Natalie Merchant-esque alto feigns innocence as the instruments hypnotically lull listeners. The show is a release party for its new Five Hearts.
By K. Ross Hoffman
Lion Versus’ new record, Five Hearts, which arrives in a beautifully crafted hand-printed package complete with wax seal and calligraphic insert, runs a compact 25 minutes, but that’s plenty enough time for the sweetly brooding sounds of the Philly-via-Savannah chamber-folk septet to work up a fine swampy simmer. The group’s intimate, intricate, spaciously droning and gypsy-tinged arrangements, full of dolorous strings, funeral brass, mandolin and harmonica all wrapped around Hilary White’s gently smoky alto, will be manna for fans of Beirut, Andrew Bird, First Aid Kit and local psych-folk heroes Espers. This CD-release show, featuring like-minded Philly brethren, including the ever-fabulous Cuddle Magic, should be a great time to get acquainted.