Smile Politely

The dual charm of Black Eyed Lillies

Two musicians are performing on a stage. The stage is set in a room with a gray wall adorned with a painting. The musicians, seated on chairs, are engaged in playing a guitar and a microphone. A guitar amplifier and a microphone stand are also present on the stage. The floor beneath them is wooden with a rug placed under the musicians’ chairs.
Sal Nudo

Groupies of the Black Eyed Lillies likely had a field day two weekends ago as the band played back-to-back shows in two different Champaign-Urbana locations. For their first show that evening, the Lillies brought their down-home sound to the upper level of Harvest Market, playing on a brisk fall day in which the sun didn’t once peek through. With numerous types of grilled cheese sandwiches being the plat du jour during the Epic Grilled Cheese Event, the duo did its thing while folks walked around the area, drank at the bar, and ate at tables. One small girl danced to the infectious music, her mother hovering and smiling nearby.

The Lillies’ Harvest Market performance preceded a one-hour show the band played later that night at the 15th annual C-U Folk & Roots Festival. Singer Lindsay Lilly and guitarist Joe Asselin said the close-together performances didn’t faze them despite a few hiccups at Harvest Market with a guitar “popping in and out,” according to Asselin. “Then just, really, we’ll cruise over there to Urbana,” Asselin said regarding their plans following the show at Harvest Market. “Try to keep a chill environment. Get there, set up, do our thing.”

The musical influences between them include John Prine, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Johnson, and Susan Tedeschi. Lilly has a powerful voice when heard live and belted out the lyrics from her phone with a gutsy immediacy that doesn’t quite shine through as much on the band’s 2022 self-titled album.

Asselin, meanwhile, jammed away with a thumb pick while also generating a lush, full sound on the originals and covers. The talented musician also plays the harmonica, piano, and drums and sang a few solo numbers at the Harvest Market show. He’s played in The Kilborn Alley Blues Band, The Sugar Prophets, and the William Marsala Blues Band.

The bright-sounding Lillies came together after a mutual friend introduced them, thinking the pair could write great music together. Joined by a love of the blues, country, and Americana, Lilly and Asselin gave it a go. They hope to release new music next year.

The Black Eyed Lillies’ whirlwind day of back-to-back shows offered a mesmerizing glimpse into the band’s versatility and heartfelt musicality. Whether performing amidst the aroma of grilled cheese or under the softer glow of the C-U Folk & Roots Festival, the duo showed that good music transcends location and mood. With plans for a new album, and a growing reputation for spellbinding live performances, the Lillies have given music lovers in Champaign-Urbana more than a few reasons to keep an ear to the ground. Their songs are not just melodies but echoes of the community, reverberating through the Illinois cornfields and into the heart of the local music scene.

Smile Politely: Tell folks about your first album from 2022. It has such a clean sound.

Lindsay Lilly: We had an all-star rhythm section. We had Todd Parks, who plays with Sam Bush. Josh Hunt — he played with Alison Krauss and Union Station. Our producer, Tom Vrem, who owns Vinyl Archaeology, he’s really good friends with all these studio musicians because he works part-time at Blackbird Studio.

SP: What about some of the songs on the album?

Lilly: “Black Eyed Lilly” is a character who escapes an abusive man and is exacting her revenge set in the old Western era on the back of her trusty steed. It’s a tribute to all women who are lucky enough to escape this type of abuse, and the ones still suffering. “Illinois Cornfields” is a tribute to my grandfather on my father’s side of the family. I grew up on our family farm that has been passed down through the generations. The sense of community we have from many family members on the same piece of land was priceless.

SP: Where does the blues sound come from?

Lilly: Joe and I both have backgrounds in blues. My father took me to lots of blues festivals and [to see] artists when I was young, so I developed a taste for blues early in life. Joe first picked up the harmonica around the age of nine and fell in love with the blues sound. Blues guided Joe through the challenges of life and helped him gain self-expression and confidence.

SP: What will your next album sound like?

Lilly: It’s going to be a little more cohesive as far as sound. Our last album, as much as we love it, was kind of all over the place as far as genre goes. We’ve kind of honed in on our sound for the second one. I’m real excited.

Two individuals are seated on stage with microphones in front of them. The individual on the left is adorned in a black dress speckled with white polka dots. The individual on the right, donning a black cowboy hat and jacket, cradles a guitar. The backdrop is a plain white wall, illuminated by a spotlight. Cables and microphone stands are scattered across the stage.
Sal Nudo

Joe Asselin: Sound-wise, [it] will be similar because we’ll be working with the same producer. We’ll be recording at his home. He has a great studio in Nashville. He’s an excellent engineer and has a great setup.

You can learn more about Black Eyed Lillies on Facebook.

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