Even after writing for Americana Highways for a few years now, a piece of music will, every so often, still jump up and surprise me. Katie Pruitt, Brennen Leigh and Cristina Vane are a few of the artists that I had little knowledge of before their most recent records came out, but a first listen both perked up my ears and sent me running to the web, hoping they’d be playing near me soon. A few weeks ago, I heard the new single from Brooklyn band Lightning Bug, and I was immediately hooked. Days later, the whole album, A Color of the Sky, serendipitously dropped into my inbox, and I knew I’d want to share it with y’all. Is it Americana? No. Yes. I don’t know. But the mature attention to songcraft, along with a few doses of pedal steel guitar, should draw our ears to this record.
Lightning Bug is fronted by Audrey Kang, and she uses the lightest possible touch on her vocals (for a taste of how spellbinding her approach can be, check out her pandemic-era cover of John Prine’s “Souvenirs,” recorded days after his passing). The band counters her light-as-air delivery with a wash of guitars, piano, synths and whatever else might help them achieve an otherworldly texture. The songs, primarily written by Kang, reflect the kind of growth you’ll find in any generation of twenty-somethings – a first-time full awareness of the landscape outside of their own personal bubble, as well as a sense of responsibility for the world they’re about to inherit (one that we older folks have, simply for our own convenience, left a mess). That lead single that I mentioned, “The Right Thing is Hard to Do,” addresses a problem that Kang and her bandmates are much more likely to suffer from than, say, the middle-aged guy writing this piece – “Fires burn and the waters rise/As we turn from what we know is right.” Later, Kang flips the song’s title while acknowledging what we all really know – “The hard thing is right to do/When we’ve got so much to lose.” That increasingly timely message – i.e. “DO SOMETHING!” – and some truly dreamy slide work from Kevin Copeland put “The Right Thing” firmly into the song-of-the-year discussion.
Joining Kang on the album are co-writers and core band members Kevin Copeland and Logan Miley, but fully fleshing out the band’s sound are bassist Vincent Puleo and drummer Dane Hagen. The latter two joined Lightning Bug on the band’s last tour and, on this record, in the studio for the first time. A Color of the Sky was largely recorded live in studio, which makes the musical complexity of the songs even more stunning. Lead track “The Return” is a slow-burn which introduces the album’s theme of growth – “Such pretty things that I have bought and such ugly things I’ve thought/The times I should’ve let it go, but instead I blindly fought” – aided by violin and just the lightest dusting of pedal steel.
A Color of the Sky also gives us a band who finds a balance between experimenting – the title track features Kang and Copeland playing cymbals, pedal steel and electric guitar with a bow – and tradition – “Reprise” is simply (but beautifully) vocals and four acoustic guitars. The album wraps with “Flash,” which once again finds Kang deep in thought – “I hunt for the signs like I chase for the words I can rhyme to/And my tunneling mind tunnels deeper so that I can barely find the truth.” Some might look at that as mere navel-gazing. Within those deep reveries, though, we’re seeing a band both interested in asking the tough questions and unafraid to push their musical boundaries.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “The Right Thing is Hard to Do” – but appreciating this song is easy.
A Color of the Sky was mixed by Logan Miley and mastered by Heba Kadry. Songs were written by Audrey Kang, Kevin Copeland and Logan Miley. Lightning Bug is Kang (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocal loops, violin, synthesizer, electronics, bowed cymbal, bowed pedal steel), Copeland (background vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, sampler, piano, bass guitar, bowed electric guitar, drum programming), Miley (sampler, modular synthesizer, drum programming, bass synthesizer, piano, electric guitar, electronics), Vincent Puleo (bass guitar, acoustic guitar) and Dane Hagen (drum kit, acoustic guitar).
Order A Color of the Sky and find tour dates on Lightning Bug’s Bandcamp page: https://lightning-bug.bandcamp.com/album/a-color-of-the-sky