On Friday evening, as Missoula's River City Roots Festival was gathering momentum on Main Street, the related Family Fun Festival at Caras Park was drawing to a close. With the muted sounds of a rowdy crowd in the distance, Letter B performed to the much sparser audience of kids playing in the grass, couples wandering toward town and a few families eating street food in the stands.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, the five-member band opened forcefully, the voices of sibling duo Jordan Lane and Katie C. (both stage names) mixing with Lhanna Writesel's alternately smooth and popping saxophone. With Michael English on drums and Dillon Jones on bass, the group warmed up to a sustained jam, which turned the park into a chill but clearly revived atmosphere.
This week, Letter B is releasing a new five-song EP, Catch Me When I Fall. The new tracks are both a continuation of the band's sound as well as a bit of a fresh start. Their signature sound, which you absolutely can't not compare to Dave Matthews' Band, has been updated: The electric guitarist in the group has moved on, replaced by Writesel, whose saxophone makes the band's sound softer and sweeter, a half step further away from rock and roll and closer to R&B.
Lane writes all of the band's music in addition to providing lead vocals and guitar. In fact, a roundup of his favorite musicians is a great way to describe the blend of sounds his own band produces.
"I'm a huge fan of Dave Matthews and his songwriting," he says. "I love how they play songs and jam, but without being a jam band. Then, I'm really into hip hop, Atmosphere. I also like Ray LaMontagne. His voice and the way he expresses emotions within his melodies."
- Letter B releases its new EP at the Top Hat this week.
Katie C., Lane's older sister, not only provides vocals to the group, but also adds a calm energy and ethereal texture that's hard to put a finger on. The name of the band comes from one of her poems.
Lane and Katie C. both grew up in Missoula, the children of a pastor. A number of the songs they sing have a political bend, others are about the spiritual, but most are simply about Lane's personal life experiences. One of their new tracks, "Wake Up," for instance, is about their parents' divorce.
"The song is about how you play such a huge role in the back and forth [of your parents' divorce]," he says. "I was the only one left in the house. Katie was traveling, but she was that safe space for me. She doesn't sing any of the words with me, because her experience wasn't my experience. Instead, we put in a vocal melody that represents both of our perspectives on that situation."
The song is a fine example of all of Letter B's music: thoughtful, emotional, heartfelt and layered. And while the recorded track is good, feeling the energy of the band playing it live is the better experience.
"As far as our vibe, we just like to exchange energy," Lane says. "We really like to perform and feel the energy between us and the crowd. We like to share moments in each show. We want to be an experience to remember, to create an atmosphere."
Letter B plays an EP release party at the Top Hat Fri., Sept. 1, at 10:15 PM. $5.