Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles started out their career playing for spare change on the University of Minnesota campus, and — in a move that is exceedingly rare among college-campus buskers — they soon gained a big following. In a matter of months, they moved from sidewalk and living room shows to playing the biggest venues in Minneapolis. It was easy to see why: everything about them was cute. They were barely out of their teens, they played accordion and ukulele and other old-fashioned, acoustic instruments, and, cutest of all, Lucy Michelle sang something like a slightly drunk Shirley Temple. (When she talks, she sounds like she’s nine years old.) The music itself was kind of twee, too. The songs were short and uptempo, folk-inspired numbers with lyrics that tended to focus on childhood.
After releasing three albums between 2008 and 2010, they were just about as big as a folk act could be in their hometown. Their music, too, seemed to be reaching its limit: there’s only so much you can do with cute.
And so, Lucy Michelle spent the long, snowy Minnesota winter of 2010–2011 writing lyrics about feeling trapped and isolated. The band gave the songs the serious arrangements they deserved, and when they took them to producer Matt Boynton (MGMT, Beirut), he stretched them further. On the resulting Heat, Michelle’s voice is as distinctive as ever, but now it sounds less like a cartoon character and more like a grown-up woman. The band doesn’t sound like busking folkies anymore, it sounds like an alt-country act that really knows what it’s doing.
LUCY MICHELLE AND THE VELVET LAPELLES: Casbah, Monday, July 30, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $8.