Lucy Michelle breathes life into an old, eclectic sound

Lucy Michelle (center) and three of her Velvet Lapelles: Ashley Boman, Chris Graham, and Geoff Freeman
Tony Nelson for City Pages

It's an idyllic morning in St. Paul, the kind that balances the hot blaze of the sun with a cool, delicate breeze. Somehow, I've found myself seated on the edge of a trampoline in a secluded backyard, being serenaded by the sigh of an old accordion and the strum of a ukulele as I bask in the sunlight. Have I died and gone to heaven? Nope—I've just dipped my toes into the wonderful world of Lucy Michelle.

"I feel like we're a bunch of hippies," laughs accordion player Ashley Boman as she, guitarist Chris Graham, and Michelle finish playing and seat themselves cross-legged on the trampoline. The three young players make up one half of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles (which also includes drummer Geoff Freeman, cellist Eamonn McLain, and bassist Jesse Schuster), a relatively new local group who are preparing to release their first album, Orange Peels and Rattlesnakes, on Friday. As we chat, we are accompanied by the sound of chirping birds and the smell of freshly cut grass.

Since forming last August and recording their album last November, Michelle and her cohorts have quietly started snowballing one of the Twin Cities' most diverse and rapidly growing fan bases. With a sound that combines dashes of old-fashioned country, folk, and polka with otherworldly tinges of Gypsy and flamenco, Michelle's music appeals just as much to the NPR crowd as it does to those of the rock-club persuasion.

Michelle says she suffers from significant stage fright, and it seems that her popularity around town has happened almost accidentally. Michelle and Boman started out busking around Dinkytown, but they say that even playing on street corners made them uneasy.

"When we were busking, we'd be hiding by this parking lot," Michelle laughs. "And when someone walked by, we would play quieter."

Despite her attempts to shy away from the spotlight, Michelle brings an undeniable magnetism to her music. On Orange Peels, Michelle's voice dominates the album and defines the band's sound: Spry and yelping, it climbs masterfully around loops and peaks, punctuating longer notes with a delicate vibrato. In a style that could be compared to one of her influences, Jolie Holland, Michelle embodies the loose vocal stylings of a free spirit, breathing new life into her old-timey, eclectic songs.

Most tracks on Orange Peels cover familiar ground—relationships, particularly ones that have ended—but unlike most typical songs about love, these sound as if Michelle spends more time breaking the hearts of others than having her own tread upon.

"I'm sorry I broke your heart/And I'm sorry I couldn't give you mine," she sings on the closing track, "36th," while on "Postcard" she laments: "I'll never be the one to evaporate your nightmares/And I'll never be the one to climb up all those stairs/I'll never be the one to be there." It gives her romantic tales a sense of detached coolness, which in turn makes her even more irresistible. Who will capture the heart of this shy yet headstrong chanteuse? Who will she sing about next?

Those interested in delving into Michelle's world would do well to check her out soon. In addition to this week's album-release show, the band has been booked to open for humorist Kevin Kling at the Cedar next month, and they have already appeared on both the Current and Radio K for in-studio performances.

"Oh, man, Radio K," Michelle recalls, shaking her head. "I almost puked. I was singing 'Connect the Dots,' it was the first song, and—knowing that we were on live radio, I think, was just the worst. The only thing I could think about was how embarrassing it would be if I just vomited on live radio. Just like, halfway through a song and suddenly all you hear is 'Blegggghhhh.' Ew! Ick!

"It would be live radio, and everybody would be like, Oh, man, did she ruin all of the sound equipment with her vomit?"

LUCY MICHELLE AND THE VELVET LAPELLES perform a CD-release show with Bouncer Fighter and Military Special on FRIDAY, JULY 25, at the BEDLAM THEATER; 612.341.1038

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