In their own right, both Wolverhampton-born and LA-based Carina Round and Toronto’s Justin Rutledge are outstanding musicians whose individual back catalogues should form part of any discerning record collection. As solo performers, they’re musically quite different, she more of a rock persuasion with often savage electric guitars, conjuring comparisons to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. In my book she’s one of the greatest female vocalists of her generation and a stunning songwriter to boot. By contrast, ploughing a mostly acoustic furrow, Rutledge, himself a dazzling songsmith, is of a softer hue, blessed with the sort of hushed and vulnerably breathy voice that makes women want to either confess their most intimate secrets or and protect him from the cruel world.
Together their styles and influences combine in a melodic marriage of folk-pop and soft rock that’s drawn comparisons to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, solidly bolstered by guitarist/producer Dan Burns and multi-instrumentalist Zac Rae. This is their second release, following and building on from their eponymous 2012 debut, Carina and Justin again sharing lead vocals and harmonising. Like their name, the music’s evocative of fresh, crisp December mornings, of rime glistening on trees, yet also has the snug warmth of a favourite scarf.
Rutledge takes lead on three numbers, opening the album in trademark whispery form with the pulsating guitar line and melancholic piano of Vanishing Act and proceeding to invest the equally acoustic and piano framed The Weight Of The World with a resigned weariness that captures a recurring theme of being weighed down. However, it’s the final turn in the spotlight that is his finest solo moment as tremulous emotion leaks out of Without These Chains, a gospel tinged number about how adversity and what we inherit makes us who we are that starts as sparse acoustic before building to Snow Patrol-like climax on the back of a slow march drum, organ and angry electric guitar.
Walking Through Fire, Carina’s first lead, offers a dreamily romantic languor that, evocative of Angelo Badalementi’s twangy guitar scores for David Lynch, continues on the following, equally airy, Millionaire, though here, perhaps, you can discern a certain gossamer folk influence.
By contrast, Love Won’t Leave Me Alone is the album’s most commercial offering, a folk pop tune with twang guitar, cascading chords and catchy chorus in the tradition of Buckingham Nicks, The Bangles and, more recently, She and Him, while Up In Arms has her channeling Stevie Nicks through a bluesy rhythmic chug and Let My Love Weigh You Down features electronic effects before easing into a late night, slowly swelling horns-accompanied slow waltz with Joey Waronker, son of producer Larry, on drums.
Another celebrated family name, Chris Stills, features on backing vocals for A Thing For You, a walking rhythm marriage of the Velvets and Fleetwood Mac on which Rutledge sings the title refrain and Round the verses. They come together again in shimmering harmony for the final number, the slow alt-country, desert-noir gospel mood of the emotionally intimate Captives, Burns providing the space echo on which the album fades into the ether.
Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day.” Seems a fitting description of the album to me.
Review by: Mike Davies
Album Stream via Deezer
Out now Self Released 040510JTG