Originally written for Folk Alley
Let’s just get the Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings comparison out of the way.
Good, now we can listen more deeply. After all, Pharis & Jason Romero are artists unto themselves – instrument makers, songwriters, pickers extraordinaire. These two clearly have as much adoration and natural talent for the traditions of American folk music as they do for the intrinsic musicality of their two voices.
Fresh from a win at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (they won New/Emerging Artist of the Year), they’ve got a sophomore album ready (Long Gone Out West Blues), which wanders deeper into their craft. Like a path through the woods, you think you know where you’re headed until you to hear the running water. Then come the lonely songs.
There can be a desperation in singing lonely songs – something quiet, sad, and seething. But, when the Romeros sing, there’s more of a letting go. You’re not peering into the mind of a songwriter; you’re witnessing the release of some long-clenched story or emotion. Though these are all beautifully composed, well-considered songs, there’s a sense that the music is coming more from the spur of the moment – the newness of the emotion – than from the channeling spirit you might witness with Welch & Rawlings. For example, when Pharis comes in on “Wild Bill Jones,” it’s like she was listening to this confession then joined in out of urgent solidarity.
Besides, as the album progresses, the influence of Joni Mitchell surfaces on “The Little Things Are Hardest in the End” – possibly the album’s hardest hitting tune – followed by hints of Dylan and Baez, and other more elusive influences. A spirit emerges, clearly plucked from deep within obscure field recordings. From Pharis’ thoughtful, creative originals to classics like “Sally Goodin”, you might be hard pressed to determine what’s old and what’s new.
This is music made on a timeless continuum, where yesterday’s troubles contribute to today’s lonesome songs. Listen in, and see where it takes you.