by Susan Marquez
With a January 17 release date of Della Mae’s first full-length album since their 2015 self-titled project, fiddle player Kimber Ludiker bares her soul. The band is named after a 1959 Osborne Brothers song they released on MGM Records. “A lot of the songs in the bluegrass repertoire in those days were about women who done a man wrong,” Kimber laughs. “Della Mae was a character in a song, but we decided we’d stick by her and honor her by naming our group after her.”
Formed in Boston in 2009 with ambitions of disrupting the male-dominated music scene,
the band has proven undeniably ahead of their time in placing women at the forefront – an element evident in the origin of their name.
“Della Mae is a woman who pops up in a lot of bluegrass songs and who’s a victim of physical abuse. She done her man wrong, and now he’s gonna get her,” Kimber explains. “From the beginning, this band has been about reclaiming or changing the conversation for women, especially those whose stories haven’t been told.”
Kimber adds that the band’s mission has always been to showcase bluegrass and roots music, and of course to have fun.
The band averages about 220 days a year on the road.
In the song Working, which features the brilliant harmonies of The McCrary Sisters, the lyrics are about working as a musician and feeling like sometimes maybe you should give up, but then having just enough hope and foolishness to keep holding on to the dream. Another song, First Song Dancer, references the source of that hope with “that person in the audience who gives you all their energy right off the bat, and makes you feel like you’re up there for a reason,” says Kimber. A more pensive cut is Change, written by Wood & Wire’s Tony Kamal. Like Kimber and Celia Woodsmith, on guitar and vocals with Della Mae, Kamal went through the experience of losing his father. The band drew from that common experience and turned it into a song about how the only constant in life is “change.”
The album was tracked at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville and produced by Dan Knobler. In addition to Della Mae members Kimber, Celia Woodsmith, Jenni Lyn Gardener and Zoe Guigueno, other musicians were brought in on electric and acoustic guitars, drums, accordion, keyboard, synthesizer, and organ. Ruth Moody, Vickie Vaughn and The McCrary Sisters joined on background vocals.
Kimber hopes for continued success with the new LP. Della Mae’s debut album on Rounder Records was named by Rolling Stone as one of the ten bands to watch in 2015. The group has traveled to 40 countries over the years, 15 of those with the U.S. Department of State to “spread peace and understanding through music,” explains Kimber. She says that the women of Della Mae decided early on to do a service project.
“We felt we had a unique message about empowering women, so we applied for the American Music Abroad program with the State Department. We were selected to go, and they sent us on a 42-day trip to six ‘stan’ countries, including Pakistan and Uzbekistan.”
There’s no doubt that Headlight will shine a light on the future of women in the world of bluegrass and beyond.