Great Lakes plums the depths of a folky new sound

By Greg Hanlon

Park Slope’s Union Hall will feature a disparate one-two Brooklyn punch on the night of January 4, when the indie band Great Lakes and folk singer-songwriter Rachel Lipson take the stage on the first Friday of 2008. Though they are originally from the suburbs of Atlanta, Great Lakes has established themselves as fixtures in the Brooklyn music scene. The band’s appearance at Union Hall will be their third. Since their self-titled debut album in 2000, the Great Lakes’ sound has changed considerably. Back then, they were known for a kind of sixties, psychedelic pop sound along the lines of the Beatles, the Kinks and the Zombies. But according to Ben Crum, the band’s lead singer who has been collaborating with lyric-writer Dan Donahue since they were in high school in the early 1990s, “We’ve gotten a little more earthy and folky, and turned away from being psychedelic.” On their latest record, “Diamond Time,” Crum said the Band was one of Great Lakes’ main influences. “We’re trying to blend rock, folk and country,” he said. Crum’s latent southern accent creeps into his baritone voice when he belts out Donahue’s lyrics, which are now “slightly more grounded in reality” than they were during Great Lakes’ early years. Also appearing at Union Hall will be Rachel Nichols, a Brooklyn-based folksinger and songwriter. Nichols’ relatively simple chord arrangements bring out her lyrics, which are simultaneously abstract and intensely personal (think Leonard Cohen, whom Nichols counts as one of her biggest influences). A native of Detroit, Nichols has lived in Brooklyn for nine years. This past summer, she released her latest album, “Pastures,” on Meccico Records, a U.K. label founded and run by members of the band Cornershop, a British indie folk band. She considers herself “more of a writer than a musician,” she said. “But my writing works out best for me in songs.” The sincerity of her lyrics is underscored by the fact that her singing voice isn’t so far removed from her speaking voice. “That’s the great thing about folk music. It’s something anybody can do. I mean, I like my voice and everything, but you don’t have to have a really elaborate, amazing, over-the-top voice to do it,” she said. Lipson is friends with members of Great Lakes; the two acts have discussed collaborating at the January 4th show. “It would be great if we could do that. It all depends on if we have time to get together beforehand,” Lipson said. Also on the bill that night is New York-based indie rock band Bridges and Powerlines playing what has been described as their instantly likable power pop. The Great Lakes and Rachel Nichols play Union Hall, with Bridges and Powerlines, on January 4. Tickets are $7, with the show starting at 8 p.m. Union Hall is located at 702 Union Street. For more information, go to www.unionhallny.com, or call 718-638-4400.

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