Releasing two albums simultaneously is an ambitious and, in dividing sales, potentially commercially risky affair, even if you’re a major star. So, for The Lowest Pair (who were introduced on Folk Radio UK back in 2014), a banjo playing Americana duo, it almost seems like madness. However, Arkansas-born, Washington-based Kendl Winter and Minnesotan Palmer T. Lee, clearly have a sufficiently loyal following to make the venture worthwhile, especially given that the albums are distinctively complementary rather than two offering more of the same.
That said, both trade in traditional Clinch Mountain style roots bluegrass, the duo playing the tunes on banjo and guitar, augmented by other musicians on bass, lap steel and fiddle. However, the former, in line with their past work, is spare Appalachian country, a collection of wistful ballads with Lee providing the gruffer vocals and Winter a sort of high trebly mix of Parton and Harris. The songs are either individual or shared compositions, Uncertain As It Is Uneven opens with Winter warbling on The Company I Keep before Lee takes over for a traditional styled Keewanaw Flower about quitting his job and rambling life to return to his girl and cabin home. This, in turn, is followed by the pair trading verses on the forlorn estranged lovers number Lonesome Sunshine as each imagines being with the other (“I been playing make-believe, pretending you’re here with me”).
And that’s pretty much how it goes for the remaining eight tracks, slightly bluesier on banjo-trading Like I Did Before, speeding up the playing for the breakneck Mason’s Trowel, Winter demonstrating her banjo virtuosity with the irregular rhythm of Dreaming Of Babylon, and showing they’re not exactly backwoods hicks as, on the chorus of the playful Holy Buckets they sing “You can take your iPhone and stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
The second of the two albums Fern Girl & Ice Man takes a more experimental approach, adding drums and a third guitar courtesy of Dave Simonett from Trampled By Turtles, for more of a band feel, ably evidenced by five minute opener The River Will which, after an unaccompanied dual vocal intro, takes off into fuller sounding territory and instrumental jam. The fuller sound is equally in effective evidence on When They Dance The Mountains Shake, Erik Koskinen keeping the beat shuffling on drums while, after a quiet start, Spring Cleaning builds the instrumental power as it ebbs and flows.
By way of a departure, both sung by Lee, the slow waltzing Stranger has hints of Neil Young while Totes sounds a lot like early Guy Clark (both musically and as a lyric) and is a particular highlight, as indeed is the near six minute time signature shifting Waiting For The Taker with its lengthy instrumental section showing how the pair rely on simple but deft playing rather than flash. Music for sunshine and mint juleps, the albums, like the duo, make a fine pair.
Uncertain As It Is Uneven | Fern Girl & Ice Man are out now via Team Love Records in the UK.
Photo Credit: Daniel Robert O’Leary