I have a 19 year-old friend, the eldest son of brilliant commercial artists, who is totally and willingly out of step with the modern world. He hates Facebook, Twitter, apps and memes and the world’s obsession with smartphones. He is in thrall to Columbo, and in that character’s honour has already written nine – NINE! – full length detective novels on a vintage typewriter (being one of his collection of over sixty). Not your average teenager, but it is what makes him so fascinating. As in certain ways I think likewise, I applaud and am intrigued by any young person unconcerned with what is trending or has gone viral, happy to reject digital clutter and the societal expectations of their peers in order to live a simpler, freer life, while gazing longingly at the past.
Reading the biography of Kacy Anderson, 18, and 21 year-old Clayton Linthicum, issued to publicise their achingly beautiful (and, already, third) album, Strange Country, it is clear that in some ways they are not dissimilar to my beguiling young pal. With South Dakotan cowboy roots and, as cousins, a bond stretching back to childhood, these youngsters have been playing shows for six years, embracing music of another time and place, intuitively instilling in it their own identity. Like my friend they create art that, while unique and relevant, pays homage to their inspirations from bygone days, in an authentic and timeless manner. So much so, in fact, that had I been handed a copy of Strange Country and been informed that it was – like so many treasures unearthed in recent years – a digitally restored obscurity by an early 70s British folk duo, not for a second would I have considered it otherwise. Even the production (by Canadian roots-rock luminary, Shuyler Jansen) sounds of that time. Yet it is so accomplished that I would also have been highly skeptical at least when told of the youth of the musicians.
It’s very simple; whilst also handy to compare them to Welch and Rawlings, listening to Kacy & Clayton recalls the spirit of all the great British male-female folk duos of the golden late 60s-early 70s era: Davy Graham and Shirley Collins; Richard and Linda Thompson; John and Beverley Martyn et al. Anderson’s voice, already at her tender age compared to Sandy Denny’s, is clear and pure, and Linthicum’s Jansch-like picking seems technically advanced for his age. (That said, he has been playing since the age of ten.) Yet what they do is no paint-by-numbers tribute to their idols, but rather exquisite original material blossoming from a both a deep appreciation and understanding of the folk music and recording techniques of that period, and a rural Saskatchewan upbringing.
Recorded in a week in February 2015 at Ghetto Box Studios in Saskatoon, Strange Country presents ample evidence to illustrate why high praise for Kacy & Clayton has been forthcoming from such as The Milk Carton Kids and, indeed, Linda Thompson, who describes the pair as ”great.” Another champion is their friend, The Deep Dark Woods’ Ryan Boldt, who employs both Anderson and Linthicum in his solo band and the latter in his main gig. For a songwriter as talented as Boldt to proclaim Kacy & Clayton’s compositional skills to be “outrageous,” as he did in my recent interview with him for Folk Radio UK, you just know that these kids are fast evolving into something very special.
Boldt is not wrong. The seven originals on Strange Country are lyrically and sonically strong enough to stand alongside, remaining indistinguishable in quality or performance, from the three famous traditional songs: Seven Yellow Gypsies (popularised by Martin Carthy and Nic Jones), Over the River Charlie (Jean Ritchie) and The Plains of Mexico (The Watersons).
Backed by producer Jansen, bassist Chris Prpich (Brass Buttons), vibraphonist Barrett Ross (Foam Lake); The Deep Dark Woods’ drummer, Lucas Goetz, cellist Evan Bates and the brilliant session violinist, Meredith Bates, Kacy & Clayton have created a gorgeous wee gem of an album that will continue to attract accolades from fans and fellow musicians alike. It may straddle the Atlantic with one foot in the Canadian prairies of today and the other in London’s Troubadour Club of the 1960s but, in the words of E.L.O.’s Jeff Lynne, “Old music is the same as new music – it’s just a different way of delivering it.”
Review by: David Morrison
Strange Country is Out Now via Big White Cloud Records
Order it via Bandcamp here: kacyandclayton.bandcamp.com
Kacy and Clayton are in the UK on tour in May 2016. Details and ticket links can be found here:
Photo Credit: Dane Roy