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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Lowest Pair

Fern Girl & Ice Man

Review by Gary Hill

I didn’t expect to fall in love with this act and particularly this album. I’m not a huge fan of roots music in general and bluegrass specifically. Yet, this disc really just works so well. It’s a heaping helping of down-home musical magic. It’s based on old time musical sounds, but still manages to break some new ground and bring a freshness to the proceedings. This disc is likely to make my best of 2016 list, really.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
The River Will

The song opens with an acapella vocal duet. After a verse the music joins. This song has a great roots bluesy bluegrass vibe. The vocal harmonies and melodies are just so classy. The interplay between the instruments later takes it into completely different territory. It actually rises into the vein of progressive rock or fusion in a lot of ways.

Tagged Ear
A beautiful and intimate balladic sound begins this number. It works forward from there. While this doesn’t get as powerful and energized as the opener, it has all the beauty and magic of that song.
Stranger
A rather noisy harmonica starts this cut. It works to a folk based number from there. This is good, but not at the same level as the opening two pieces. Although this does get stronger as it builds outward, it still doesn’t reach that same peak. Then again, those two songs are set the bar very high.
When They Dance the Mountains Shake
More energetic, there is a dancing kind of vibe between the instruments. This is the kind of piece that will get you wanting to tap your toes, or perhaps more. It’s definitely a step back up the ladder.
Spring Cleaning
This piece starts with a mellower motif that serves for a big chunk of it. That part works reasonably well. On the closing section, though, they power things up and it really excels. It’s a short bit, but it’s extremely compelling.
Totes
The interplay both between the voices and the instruments is what makes this track really work. While it’s more of a folky type excursion (in some ways it makes me think of Bob Dylan a bit), there is some real magic here.
Trick Candlelight
A much mellower cut, this is based very much in old school country music. It’s very classy stuff.
Shuck It
As you might guess, “shuck” seems to be taking the place of another word in the lyrics. It makes for a clever substitution, really. This is another bluegrass based piece. It’s another that’s in the line of really old school stuff, too.
Sweet Breath
A more energized piece, this is one of the stronger ones. It’s more pure bluegrass and works quite well.
Waiting for the Taker
The instrumental interplay on this one is among the best here. I also love the way the vocals dance around the arrangement. This is another strong piece.
How Can I Roll
This is a mellower tune. That said, the arrangement in many ways has more layers of sound and more textures than some of the rest of the music here. This is packed with an intimate and evocative vibe. It makes the piece one of the highlights of the set. I’m generally not a big fan of closing the disc with a particular mellow musical excursion. In this case, it really makes sense.
 
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