Ludlow Creek’s Which Way is Forward? is the second full-length release from the Ohio-based quintet. The band first formed in 2013 under the name Southbound and toiled several years on the club circuit, playing over 200 shows, before opting for a shift to their own songwriting. The unit is anchored by the Scarpellis, keyboardist/singer Michelle and bassist/singer Tom respectively. However, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Allen Seals, second guitarist and singer Dave Benson, and drummer/singer Jeffrey Friend round out the lineup as more than just collaborators; they are friends.
“Finding Our Way Back” is one of the best songs on the album. It has a commercial tone without ever coming off like it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator and the song’s harmony vocals are an inspired facet of its presentation. The vast majority of Ludlow Creek’s material is written with the stage in mind and “Finding Our Way Back” is no different. Opening the collection, as well, with a song emphasizing the “our” rather than “I” is a shrewd move.
Many of the songs boast physical and inventive music that gets close to listeners. The arrangement for “Road to Nowhere” seldom backs off listeners, much like the lyrics, but each turn in the arrangement makes sense. If you’re half fearful of self-indulgence creeping into the picture with a dozen songs on the release, I understand. There’s no reason to be fearful, however, as “Road to Nowhere” provides listeners with one of the earliest bits of aural evidence that Ludlow Creek are trying to wrote songs with staying power.
The instrumental “Chiano Morning” opens with some ambient fx, as do many of the album’s songs, but the intro is brief. It is a piece born from melody and the gentle invocation of nature through the arrangement, the dawning of day, the promise of a new sun; these things come through without any pretentious overkill. The song may be a bit unexpected because of its instrumental status and it may not be your wont to entertain such music, but it’s rewarding. Drums crack unlike anywhere else on the album for me with the track “Sweet Celebration” and it’s a great tool for communicating the song’s mood that isn’t readily obvious, perhaps, but fitting nonetheless.
The keyboard-driven “Steal Away” puts Michelle Scarpelli in the lead vocal spot and she acquits herself quite well. Ludlow Creek’s ability to bring multiple vocalists to the table is on exhibit over the course of the album and this new reminder, for newcomers, of their versatility comes at an excellent place late in the running order. The final pairing of “Never Knew the Man” and the closer “Sunrise in the Trees” provides a memorable contrast.
Ludlow Creek goes deep and hard-edged with the former song, a gut-check guitar blues with accompanying simmering keyboards. They bring down the final curtain, however, with virtually its polar opposite. “Sunrise in the Trees” is the note of hope we need as we take our leave from the release. As they did with the earlier instrumental “Chiano Morning”, Ludlow Creek’s last song on Which Way is Forward? leaves us with the promise of the new.