Returning with their second full-length album, Polly and the Billet Doux’s Money Tree reads like a collection of open letters to the American South, written from within the belly of Southern England. Touching upon country, folk and blues, the Winchester quartet aren’t afraid to flirt with change, and at times the results are stunning.
The crooked ‘Black Crow’ is a curveball of an opener – wonky and dark, but straight and light enough to move to – and when paired with the jaunty, locomotive ‘Stories of Our Own’, the stark contrast works surprisingly well. This serves as a formula-of-sorts for much of the album – the sour against the sweet; the sunlight and the shadow. At the other end of the album, ‘What I’ve Got (Is All Yours)’ sounds like a youthful trip to the funfair, but is brought crashing down by the circus funeral waltz of ‘Old Virginia’.
Money Tree owes much of its success to a band that is obviously working from experience. There is plenty of room for each member to breathe, without stepping on Polly or the subjects of her songs. Around her storytelling, the rhythm section anchors the guitar perfectly, allowing it to escape for brief moments of clarity, while never letting it pull away from the song entirely. A natural reference point for much of the album falls upon the works of country royalty T-Bone Burnett – ‘Atlas of Love’ is Krauss/Page balladry with beautifully tangled harmonies, while the title track is a drunken True Detective scene. Not a bad thing at all.
If there’s to be any criticism, Money Tree seems gently off-balanced as an album. During their more unpredictable and dark moments, Polly and the Billet Doux are at their most fascinating, but we don’t hear it often enough. Take the tension and release of ‘My Father’s House’, or the harmonica break during ‘Calico Blankets’, which hints at a miniature Band of Skulls or Kill it Kid. Both very different bands to the Billet Doux, granted, but there’s that similar feeling of tumbling into a riff and just letting things unfold. Sometimes, it all feels a little constrained and measured, more refined than the songs deserve.
Money Tree is a strong album, but the thought of these songs in a live environment is the true selling point – with the right setting and a hungry audience, they’d really have room to grow. With their reputation for a decent show, that makes catching these guys on tour unmissable.
Money Tree was released on 19th May and is available to buy from iTunes.
Polly & the Billet Doux’s UK tour:
Thursday 22nd May – The Greystones, Sheffield
Friday 23rd May – Chapel Arts Centre, Bath
Saturday 24th May – South Devon Arts Centre, Totnes
Sunday 25th May – Bearded Theory Festival, Walton On Trent
Tuesday 27th May – Latest Music Bar, Brighton
Wednesday 28th May – West End Centre, Aldershot
Thursday 29th May – The Lights, Andover
Friday 30th May – Kings Place, London
Saturday 31st May – Uttoxeter Acoustic Festival, Uttoxeter Sunday 1st June – Cheltenham Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham