In 2018, a folk trio and supergroup called I’m With Her took the bluegrass world by storm with their grounded, spritely compositions and golden harmonies. The three women behind the group, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, weren’t exactly new to the scene—each has her own career separate from the band—but their album, See You Around seemed to signal an exciting new era in folk music. Now it seems their successors have arrived.
The band is Lula Wiles. They’re a Boston-based trio made up of Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin, three friends who began collaborating in college, released their self-titled debut in 2016 and have since played major folk festivals like Newport and Philadelphia. They’re a Smithsonian Folkways signee and are releasing their sophomore album, What Will We Do, on the label on Jan. 25. Their three-part harmonies are warm, their lyrics real and smiles contagious, and they brought all three to the Paste Studio in New York City on Tuesday, Jan. 8, for a session in support of the new record, though they didn’t play either of the already-released singles (“Love Gone Wrong” and “Good Old American Values”). Rather, they played three new songs from What Will We Do for their Internet audience—”Hometown,” an ode to their shared home state of Maine, “Nashville, Man,” (“an anti love song about Nashville”) and “Independence Day,” plus an unreleased, unrecorded (until now) track written by Buckland, “It’s Cool, We’re Cool, Everything’s Cool,” a smart-ass millennial love song.
What Will We Do promises this good-natured mood, yes, but also some serious concepts: “Good Old American Values” critiques country music’s history of exploiting Native American stereotypes (“Good old American cartoons / Indians and cowboys and saloons / It’s all history by now / And we hold the pen anyhow”). “Love Gone Wrong,” the album’s opening track, is an examination of lost love and self blame. Lula Wiles’ sound is rooted in old-time traditions, but their energy is distinctly modern.
Watch Lula Wiles’ Paste Studio session below. You can pre-order What Will We Do here.