Look, I’ve been listening to Maine bands and reviewing albums for two decades now, and I have never heard a female singer around here with the combination of vocal prowess and emotive character that Geneviève Beaudoin possesses. … OK, maybe Lady Zen, but this young lady is in a class of her own. Her voice brings Lucinda Williams’ to mind — that Southern timbre and boozy drawl — yet Beaudoin’s range is wider. At times as delicate as glass, it can swell and swoop into high-lonesome yodel range with ease, fall back and land flat on a dime.
The quartet Dead Gowns provides a suitably earthy alt-country base from which Beaudoin’s transcendent singing and songwriting soars. Her ability to weave jazz-like melodies through oddly metered, poetic lyrics is astounding. On “Bad Movie,” for example, she deftly pulls off a five-note melodic run within the word “here.”
The band’s debut five-song EP, New Spine, is perfectly paced. It opens in France, with the devastating honky-tonk waltz “Lyon,” and stays there for “Bad Movie,” a lighter, shuffling number that still manages to evoke an apocalypse. Midway through, we’re on a roadside in Kansas after a car wreck. “I’m late to the party / cuz I’m shaky,” Beaudoin slurs, as if still in shock. “I can’t fake / another half-heartache.”
“Catie,” maybe the catchiest song of the bunch, bats cleanup. It’s a new version of a track that appeared early last year on an album by Mizuna, a duo Beaudoin formed with fellow singer/guitarist Mackenzie Leighton. But it’s still a surreal mystery, with lines like, “Between our eyes shoots an aqueduct / said April to the farmer / now’s the time in drowning arms for / spring wine to my lips / curve thumbs around your wrists.” The closer, “Splits,” flashes Dead Gowns’ lo-fi rock side. Guitarist and backing vocalist Luke Kalloch — who’s released solo material over the years as The Loblolly Boy and also plays in the fantastic new Peaks Island soft-rock band Wildflower — sticks mostly to a supporting role throughout, but indulges an understated solo here at the end.
It’s only the blindness of the corporate music machine that keeps an artist of Beaudoin’s caliber playing the coffee shops and small rooms of Portland, Maine. Their ignorance is our bliss. Soak it up while you can.