Ask anyone who’s caught them live and you’ll hear the same thing: It’s simply impossible to see Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones perform and not have a great time. A smile on the lips, a swivel in the hips, and an earful of snappy tunes are the inevitable takeaways from any Ark-Tones appearance. The band’s singular blend of rock ‘n’ roll, country, blues, surf, Western swing, rockabilly, folk, pop, and jazzy rhythm & blues gets feet a-moving and hands a-clapping no matter the audience. By the end of the night, if they weren’t already, those lucky concertgoers are rabid fans.
From behind her trademark red cat-eye frames, Lara, winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Female Rockabilly Artist, fills any hall that she and the Ark-Tones play. Her neon-bright, bigger-than-life persona is matched only by the outsized power of her towering voice, an instrument that moves effortlessly between big-stage belting and sexy, sultry crooning. Alongside Lara, the ace Ark-Tones know innately how to complement the leader and singer-songwriter’s dynamic vocal presence, both before an audience and in the studio: Double bassist Matt “The Knife” Goldpaugh, lead guitarist Eddie Rion, and drummer Jeremy Boniello keep the train rocketing down the rails, making moody detours whenever the songs call for them. Want an illustration of an act that knows its craft? Here to Tell the Tale, the band’s red-hot third album, is diamond-hard proof. In spades.
“Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones’ records and live performances capture, and release, the spirit of the original rockabilly and country bands that I have listened to and enjoyed for most of my life,” says Tony Garnier, Bob Dylan’s long-time bassist and a devout devotee of the group. “And my two boys, who are 10 and 13 and are [otherwise] glued to Top 40 radio, are also huge fans.”
Garnier is by no means alone in his praise for the quartet’s sound. “A beguiling chanteuse, Lara swirls with facility from sonorous swinging to purred intimations to powerhouse, knock-down-drag-out rock ’n’ roll,” says No Depression, while PopDose calls their music “a damned fine gathering of real, American rock ’n’ roll — the way it was meant to be played — with fun and passion.”
Although Lara and the group have been well known on the rockabilly scene for years, those who’ve followed their recordings know that the band’s stylistic approach is increasingly diverse. “Since our earlier albums [2014’s Luck Maker and 2017’s Love You to Life], we’ve grown a lot as musicians, and I feel like my songwriting has really matured along the way,” says Lara. “I believe that Here to Tell the Tale has our best songs so far. It’s more widely varied, in terms of the emotions, musical styles, and subject matter. We always try to have something for everybody.”
One listen to the all-originals Here to Tell the Tale shows just how true that is. After blasting out of the box with “Let’s Go,” a high-octane shot of the band’s steadfast sound, the 11-song disc spins further out with new gems like the lush, haunting “It’s a Crime.” The rousing “Some Advice” is a playful poke at the generation gap complete with hilarious voicemails from Lara’s mom, and the simmering sax of Hayden Cummings of the Kings of Nuthin’. (Another album guest is keyboardist Matt Jordan, sideman to Stray Cat Lee Rocker and Reverend Horton Heat.) The raucous title track, an anthem of steadfast determination, came to Lara after a 2019 tour fall that shattered her leg but didn’t stop her — three metal rods, twenty-three screws, and a few weeks later, she and the Ark-Tones were back out again, doing regional shows.
If there’s a theme to Here to Tell the Tale, it’s one of not holding back or being afraid of following your personal path. “It’s about getting out and living your life, creating new memories, for good or for bad, and having experiences that you just couldn’t have had otherwise,” explains Lara. “Having your own tale to tell.”
Lara’s tale begins in suburban Long Island, where as a child she fell in love with music and performing (the Beatles and Dolly Parton were formative favorites). She discovered the roots scene while playing in punk bands in the Hudson Valley, and in 2010 joined rockabilly revivalists Lara Hope & The Champtones, who shared bills with Matt Goldpaugh’s pyschobilly outfit, the Arkhams. With both bands winding down in 2012, and Lara and Matt becoming a couple, they decided to fuse their musical efforts, and the Ark-Tones were born. It’s been a rocking ride ever since, with near-constant touring across the U.S. and Europe — although unfortunately the group had to delay its 2020 tour plans due to COVID-19.
But now, with a scorching new album and the hope of things opening back up, the band is raring to rev it up and go again. “We can’t wait to be back on the road,” says Lara, who’s kept busy with Matt during the downtime by doing weekly livestream shows and making and recording an EP with their side project, the Gold Hope Duo. “We’re really looking forward to people being able to get out of the house, dance, and simply enjoy what we’ve all been missing about live music this past year.”
Here to Tell the Tale, indeed. After years of perfecting their art and paying their dues, Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones are still steaming along and, yes, they have quite a tale to tell, one that rock ’n’ roll lovers everywhere will be more than happy to hear.