A slight musical detour from the last outing delivers an album of great beauty.
The Lowest Pair (named after a John Hartford poem) are Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, two dazzling banjo players and singer-songwriters (who also play guitar) who met several years ago on the Midwest Festival circuit and who released a series of folk albums before progressing to the more Americana sound of the lovely ‘The Perfect Plan‘ in 2020, with its use of a number of session players to fill out the sound.
During the early days of the pandemic they toured round the American northwest coast and met up with the virtuosic acoustic multi-instrumentalist duo Adam Roszkiewicz and Leif Karlstrom (known as Small Town Therapy and also as co-founders of the excellent country band, Front Country). Their ‘campfire’ acoustic ramblings (in a horse camp, hence the album title) led them to create this new album of beautiful tunes and songs written during the height of the pandemic in 2020. This album is in effect a showcase for the extraordinary talents of the four musicians.
Four of the tracks, nicely spaced throughout, are instrumentals, one each written by the four writers, and the overall theme of the album is rather like a love story to the wildernesses of Oregon and Washington where the album was effectively conceived. Three of these instrumentals namecheck local areas, ‘Dark Divide’, ‘Escape from Yellowstone’ and ‘Tongue Mountain‘ while the fourth, ‘This House’, which kickstarts the album, is such a beautiful cosy acoustic guitar- led tune that it just feels like the place where the songs bore fruit. ‘Couple of Jerks‘ introduces Winter, with a nice little love song sung in her distinctive, fragile voice. “Can’t we be guardians, Of each other’s solitude, You can’t rescue me from myself, I can’t rescue you, Long the road, Side by side, Pointing out the quirks, Walking each other home, Like a couple of jerks”.
Lee’s ‘Chandelier’ is a highlight, short though it is, about mental health “Fragile and beautiful and crystal clear, Every day could turn you on like a chandelier, But sometimes the wiring just aint right, And the house burns down in the middle of the night”.
There are plenty of other highlights on the album – the guitar/banjo duelling on ‘Oak Leaf’, as well as Winter and Lee’s harmonies (which also dominate the lovely sea shanty-style ‘Dandelion Tides‘), the quirky little ‘Jinx‘ with its more amplified sound with electric guitar and drums and then there is the closer, the afore-mentioned ‘Tongue Mountain‘, with its stunning driving acoustic interplay kicked off by and then overlaid with a haunting trumpet motif. The whole album is a masterclass in musicianship, beautifully produced with a lovely soundstage and is acoustic music of the highest order.
After the more Americana sound of ‘The Prefect Plan‘, this album tends to hark back to the string band sympathies of each of the players, so it is anybody’s guess whether this will be a path that the band follows in the future. The serendipitous meeting of the four musicians in a region of inspirational beauty, coupled with the effects and influences they acquired from the pandemic experience has led to a quite outstanding album of beautiful music and for that we should be very grateful.