Nashville's Those Darlins is a hard act to peg. During a live three-song stretch, the band may go from the countrified twang of its self-titled debut to the lo-fi punk aesthetics of its second album, Screws Get Loose, but neither of those sounds matches what the band put on its third album.
These genre-benders perform at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience fresh off the October release of Blur The Line, the band's headiest album yet. On the LP, Those Darlins get more personal in lyrical content, reflecting older, wiser, more reflective artists. The new tracks cover everything from the regrets of finding oneself older yet drunk in a hotel shower to forgoing blind optimism after bad experiences. The missives are appropriately scored with a classic rock vibe, and it's no accident that many reviews borrow from Blur The Line's press materials to reference Fleetwood Mac's Tusk.
"We worked for a couple years and it was a slow evolution into the final sound," says guitarist and vocalist Jessi Zazu. "A lot of factors were at play, but it mostly came out of trying to represent the mood of where we were at during the time of writing the songs."
The more somber content reflects a few years of major changes for Those Darlins. The group experienced personnel shifts in both 2011 and 2012, initially transforming from an all-female trio (with all three using the stage last name Darlin) to that group plus a touring drummer. Now the band features an even split of male and female musicians, after co-founder and bassist Kelley Anderson departed last year to pursue other projects. Zazu says it was a difficult transition.
"We put together a handful of songs, did some work with a producer, and none of it turned out the way we had hoped. ... We just weren't there yet," Zazu says. "We were going through some intense relationship changes, learning to get along with each other in new ways and just changing a lot. We went to Europe, which was a very intense tour both physically and mentally. And there were a few deaths of people close to us that hit really hard. It was very dark and painful, but also an introspective period. We just kept working at it though, because it just seemed like the right thing to do."
Either because of or in spite of the soul searching, Blur The Line is a beautiful album. At first, it may seem out of place when compared with earlier works, but it reflects other changes as well. Zazu says the current lineup is the strongest touring group yet. It's also the first time since 2010 that Those Darlins has toured for a full year with a consistent lineup. While the band has been heralded at each step in its career, Zazu says Those Darlins have become "much better musicians than we used to be."
The set at Voodoo should carry some new wrinkles, even for fans who have seen the band live recently.
"Previously, we would switch instruments a lot and, since the recording of this album, we have picked our respective instruments and stuck to them," Zazu says. "That's helped us develop a lot more focus and confidence in our playing. We still put as much energy as we can into our performance, but it just seems more centered than it has been in the past. ... [We] have a clear idea of what to expect. We have all grown up a lot. We are playing better and getting along better than we ever have. It really feels great."