Penny & Sparrow are Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke, an Austin-based close harmony duo joined here on Let A Lover Drown You, their third album, by Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner and with John Paul White of the now defunct Civil Wars on production and co-writing duties. If you’re looking for something to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face, then you should probably look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you like a good morose wallow in the company of tunes that sound like all involved are at the end if their tether, then plunge right in.
Having said that the title serves reminder that love and death are tied together, they set the mood with yearning opening Finery, a minimally orchestrated track about covering up the signs of abuse, its embedded theme of relationship betrayal seeping over into Bed Down with its line “I know you never gave a damn about me…put away that look” and the strummed, breathily-sung slow build of Catalogue, blossoming into dreamy strings as it talks of how we use desperate displays of affection to try and keep a broken relationship together as they sing “everything old is sewn up; sometimes you heal… sometimes your ripping my stitches out.”
There’s a slightly more positive note to Makeshift, a song about making things work (“I never fall outside our love”) that swells to a peak before a coda of oscillating, pulsing electronic noise while Until Tomorrow where the protagonist declares he intends to “bide my time and wait patiently”, even though girl seems set on a one-night stand. But that’s pretty much as upbeat as it gets and with Gold we’re back in the darkness with a reflection on the commitments and conflicts of marriage “you’re a difficult love, I’m a narrow escape”; hardly surprising then that the album eventually gets round to introducing alcohol into the mix, although the softly shuffling Bourbon is less about drowning sorrows and more about find yourself at a decision crossroads.
Bon Temps takes the story of a friend who survived Hurricane Katrina for a somewhat abstract lyric about how, if you put yourself in harm’s way by cheating in a relationship, then you end up facing the consequences (“water come to call on you, jealous after all, me too”), while the spare stop/start electric guitar structure of Unfold mirrors the indecision in the lyrics (“I’m taking your time all to make my mind up”).
The album comes to a close with another examination of the way relationships change over time in the simple, strummed Each to Each and Eponine which, named for the character in Les Miserables, ends on a tentative, hopeful note about trying to put things right and the need to seek and give forgiveness (“ I wanna say I’m sorry, you say I know, you do, but you can let it go, it’s up to you”) if love is to survive.
Lyrically and musically it does tend to stick to the same path, but the ache and the melodies that pave the way are well worth the journey.
Out Now on Single Lock/Thirty Tigers
Order via Amazon
Photo Credit: Jamie Clayton