Since their self-titled debut CD in 2010, Pembroke-based band Dark Water Rising has both shed and added members, evolving from a six-piece to a quartet. Drummer Shay Jones joined, while Ciera Dial-Locklear and Brittany Jacobs, whose bewitching three-part harmonies will be sorely missed at Dark Water Rising shows, are among those who exited.
Still, there's much to be thankful for in this new iteration. The sparer unit now unequivocally foregrounds vocal frontwoman Charly Lowry, a two-time Native American Music Awards winner. The new six-song EP is a trousseau, custom built to unfurl her soulful, commanding voice. Its title, Grace & Grit, could well serve as a description of the petite Lowry, as she projects disarming warmth and the toughness of a perennial. If the sextet's old sound embodied hip-hop and girl-group aspects, the reloaded DWR comes from an imaginary crossroads where Peter Frampton meets Adele.
That this crossroads should exist in the Lumbee stronghold of Robeson County may come as a surprise to the uninitiated listener; Native American identity isn't a primary topic within DWR's music. One can listen to the whole album and not even realize that all four are Lumbees, yet that communal identity is central to its members' values and aspirations. For "Hometown Hero," a haunting tribute to a young Lumbee woman who died in a car crash, DWR filmed a music video that refocuses the song on Faith Hedgepeth, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe whose 2012 murder remains unsolved. "We don't want her to be another young Native woman whose life falls by the wayside," Lowry said in a WRAL interview.
This kind of optimism-injected heartbreak threads through the album. Half the songs start as piano ballads, with Aaron Locklear on keys, before pushing into full-blown rock tunes. "Race Against the Sun" is the most satisfying of these, modulating through changes that sport all the grandeur of a James Bond theme.
Trying to beat time serves as the EP's leitmotif, recurring in the lyrics of "Tomorrow Will Come," where Lowry bemoans the fact that "the only change is change in my pocket." For the former American Idol semifinalist, perhaps this preoccupation reflects the hustle and shine it takes to keep reinventing a music career. Lowry invites us to daydream our way into the clear for a moment on the guitar-driven "Love Me," its staggered tempo steadied by a surging heartbeat.
There are many moments of "grace" on the album, if one takes the word's multiple meanings into account. As Lowry sings in "Hometown Hero" (the only track recorded when the band was still a sextet), belief in an afterlife can be beautiful.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Reset and serve."