Six degrees of separation is really old-school, at least if you’re the Atlanta-based duo Larkin Poe. The overachieving sisters, known individually as Megan and Rebecca Lovell, are each one degree of separation from oodles of household-name musicians and other entertainers. That includes Elvis Costello, who invited the duo to tour with him in March.
Their secret? Whip-smart songwriting, red-hot instrumentation and vocals that soar through alt-country, folk, Southern rock or whatever direction their music takes. The duo, who trace their ancestry to Edgar Allen Poe, have developed a significant following in Europe and the U.K., especially since 2012, when they enchanted the 25,000+ attendees at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival in England. Just last year they were voted “Best Discovery” after playing the five-Day Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England.
U.S. music fans have been more difficult to woo.
“It is emotionally difficult to have success outside of your home country, but we really do feel like European and British audiences will take more chances on live music,” Rebecca says. “We’re grateful that we’ve been able to get traction there. We love it.”
Listen to six of the duo’s famous friends tell you why they dig Larkin Poe and bet you will, too.
Costello was an early fan, catching The Lovell Sisters, the precursor to Larkin Poe that included their sister Jessica, when he headlined the 2007 Merlefest. “They were so confident and accomplished that I had no idea how young they were. Over next couple of years, they played a few shows with us and we got to sing together. Since they founded Larkin Poe [about six years ago], they’ve written the songs to match their talents, and we have done a lot of shows including a big one at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew last summer, where they harmonized with me and my half-brothers, Ronan and Ruairi, ‘The MacManus Brothers.’ This sibling thing may catch on!,” Costello says. “They are great with a rhythm section and on [their latest album] Kin but they can do it all with just lap steel, mandolin and that beautiful, eerie sound they can create with their voices.”
Ashley Hutchings, founder of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, was alerted to the duo by his musician son Blair Dunlop, who had found them by chance in cyberspace. “We liked everything about them, their instrumental ability, their singing and their repertoire,” Hutchings says. “We became instant fans.” And mentors. Hutchings told the current members of Fairport Convention about the discovery, and they invited the sisters to play before the 20,000+ crowd at their Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire, England. “It was a blast,” he says. “Not only did they play a great set which went down very well with the festival audience but the girls, with Blair, joined the Fair[port ranks on the last evening and we—yes, I played as well, along with Richard Thompson—performed a couple of classic Convention songs together. Speaking personally, this was one of the highlights of my musical life.” Now that’s saying something.
Bush, who has launched a successful solo career apart from Sugarland, met the duo quite by accident as they prepared their latest album. “They came to my studio in Decatur, Georgia, looking to write a song for their new album, which would eventually become Kin. They were at the beginning of the process and didn’t quite know what they were looking for. We wrote a great song that day. They were fearless. That same week, I got offered my first solo show—at the O2 Arena in London—and I needed a band, fast. My brother [and music director Brandon Bush] suggested we ask Megan and Rebecca. I can only imagine what they must have thought when he called them and said ‘Hey, are you available to play with Kristian at the O2? In a month?’”
The duo aced the gig and have been working with Bush ever since. Most recently, Megan joined him on Conan last week. “We became friends almost immediately,” Rebecca says. “Now we’ve traveled together on so many dates, we feel like he’s family. We learned so much about songwriting from him. We just can’t stop writing. It’s an addiction.”
Oberst has collaborated with the sisters on several projects, including asking them to back him up at various high-profile television appearances and high-profile gigs. “The thing that struck us most about Conor was his truly open and welcoming spirit,” Megan says. “He’s very giving in energy and emotion to his band; every person feels important and appreciated. When we played with him in Central Park in NYC, a guitar luthier brought him a beautiful handmade lap steel. He turned around and gifted it to me, saying ‘This guitar deserves to be with you. Take it as something to remember me by.’ Conor is just one big hug!”
Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes is another friend, fan and collaborator who says it’s just a matter of time before the duo is tapped as headliners. “It’s only a matter of time before that takes care of itself,” he says of the tough-to-succeed-in U.S. market. “They are major talents and people will realize how good they are. I don’t see anything keeping audiences from finding them. Even the fact that we’re talking about them now means it’ll happen sooner.” Goldsmith came to know the sisters when they were invited by Costello to join as backing artists on the Bob Dylan-inspired Lost on the River: The Basement Tapes project that was released in November. The T-Bone Burnett project included Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons). “It is incredible how good they are, and they’re total pros,” Goldsmith says. “Whatever you want in musicians you will find with those girls. I know saying they have real musicianship is broad, but it’s something you don’t see much. They have a deep understanding of their instruments and their voices. I just don’t see others with that.”
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks Band and, of course, the Allman Brothers Band, may well be the person responsible for the sisters’ being dubbed ABB’s “Little Sisters.” “I have been a huge fan of Derek’s ever since I picked up lap steel and was dying to meet him,” Megan Lovell says. “I met him and did get invited to open for him in the fall of 2013. I got to hang out with him and he invited us to come to Florida and record anytime. Music is his soul.”