The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl & Ice Man

Fern Girl & Ice Man, the first of two new distinct albums released from renowned bluegrass duo The Lowest Pair is billed as the more experimental of the two works and doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s a success on multiple levels, however.

The eleven song collection presents a varied view on the duo’s performing and songwriting skills framed by outstanding production that mixes the various musical elements in a balanced way. The songwriting is remarkably sturdy and doesn’t surrender any daylight – these are tightly constructed tracks that, nevertheless, breathe and often play with disarming spontaneity, as if the recording captures each song at its initial moment of creation.

The River Will epitomizes this claim. Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, frankly, sound like they were born to sing with each other. They both have voices just a hair too skewed for mainstream tastes, but they are uniquely expressive instruments with a deceptively wide range.

Communicating with listeners isn’t a pyrotechnic display of vocal power – that’s a high wire act akin to watching someone performing stunts. Winter and Lee, on the other side, don’t overindulge their respective vocals, concentrate on finding a seamless middle ground where their voices mesh, and are clearly with every syllable of the song’s outstanding lyric.

Winter takes over most of the singing duties on the album’s second song, Tagged Ear, but Lee joins her for some key harmonies scattered throughout the track.

Stranger is, arguably, the closest the album comes to outright blues, and certainly moves at a much more mournful clip than the surrounding material. The banjo remains the dominant musical instrument, but it’s far removed from the jaunty attack heard in so many other songs. Winter’s vocal explores her lower register in a way that few others songs on this release allow her the chance to do.

The wonderfully titled When They Dance The Mountains Shake has a lightly tribal air befitting its title. The Lowest Pair have no trouble with incorporating additional instruments into their sonic blueprint because the good taste remains with them to utilize such things in the right proportion.

Spring Cleaning is a surprisingly muted song, but it’s full of such deeply felt yearning that it’s easy to forgive its modesty.

Lee’s vocals are front and center again on the brief Totes with some understated vocal support from Winter. It’s one of the album’s best lyrics and its eloquent invocation of complex, adult hope shames similar efforts that fail to focus so intently on personal truth, however challenging.

Winter takes over again on Shuck It and it’s another wickedly sharp bit of songwriting that uses traditional imagery while still sounding of our time. There’s an almost pastoral quality that touches The Lowest Pair’s music at key points – a quality that allows their music and performances to achieve a relaxed timelessness. It’s this kind of talent that forms the stuff of great legacies.

Sweet Breath is a remarkably rough and tumble, hard-charging song from the duo that features them both sharing the lead vocal.

The album comes to an appropriately elegiac ending with the beautiful How Can I Roll? and it’s thanks, in large measure, to a final gorgeous marriage of Winter and Lee’s voices. It shares enough similarities with the album’s earliest songs, particularly its opener, in terms of design that it serves equally well as a striking bookend piece to end the album.

Fern Girl & Ice Man is a spectacular success by any measure and Americana fans will rejoice over its embarrassment of riches.

9 out of 10 stars.

You can pick up Fern Girl & Ice Man on iTunes by clicking here.

If you like what you hear, make sure to give The Lowest Pair a like on Facebook by clicking here & a follow on Twitter by clicking here.

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