Is there a more evocative term than sibling harmony? And we are here talking about singing, rather than the standard well-rehearsed tales of dysfunctional derring-do betwixt embattled brothers, that usually renders the phrase, at best, ironic. No, this is that sweet spot, blood on blood, wherein the gene pool confers a mystic closeness between voices: think Everly, Louvin, McGarrigle. There are a lot, many falling loosely into country genres.
As do these guys, Adam and David Moss, who go a step further and are identical twins. Illinois natives, they grew up with their Dad’s record collection, singing along and honing the precision between their voices. Sure, Don and Phil figured large in that collection, it not long before comparisons were being made. With a couple of well-received albums and an EP under their belts, and tours supporting the likes of Sarah Jarosz, now seemed as good as any to drop a slew of covers (well, two months ago, actually – apologies for the delay).
A quick glance at the list of song might raise slight concern; do we really need yet another “These Days,” for one? Well, you know, maybe we do. Really. Let’s investigate.
A rousing “That’s How I Got to Memphis” sets the tone, as some sumptuous AOR electric piano beckons in the brother’ mellifluous harmonies, and it’s a lovely start. Followed by the aforementioned Jackson Browne staple, and, by bathing the song in a bluegrass pure arrangement, it has a distinct charm that sets it apart from many other versions. The voices blend never more mournfully, the lyrics both believable and befitting the fact Browne was still in his teens. These guys sound barely older, but it still manages to convince, the pain of youth often every bit as aching as that of experience. Quite what the tip-tap, pitter-patter percussion is I don’t know, but it is perfect.
It is then a masterstroke of sequencing to follow with another evergreen, James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” allowing the nostalgic glow of familiarity to mesh with their further lonesome rendition, with Jarosz herself slipping into the chorus. A sad song, seldom has it sounded quite so sad. The version of “If You Ain’t Got Love” that follows is cheesy, it’s true, but then again, isn’t is supposed to be? The organ and guitar solos further pile on that parmesan, transforming Dolly into Dolly Mixtures.
Which allows, by contrast, “Rugged Road” to exert, I have to say, a full Simon and Garfunkel gospel charm. (Those unfamiliar should be aware this is a Judee Sill song, rather than the religious text country boys might more usually provide.) Wreaking further change, “I Will” is gifted a quirky campfire charm that is pure Everly, if approaching the closest yet to my saccharine sensitivity. I blame the author!
Hoagy Carmichael, anyone? The bros attempt a double-tracked Chet Baker focus, almost succeeding, with cooing background vocals courtesy Rachael Price. This is one that will warrant several late night listens ahead the jury’s final decision, but I’m feeling optimistic. I didn’t recognize the Robert Earl Keen song that follows, “Feelin’ Good Again,” wanting more to congratulate their taste, if not their take on it, the song diluted without Keen’s lugubrious baritone. Which could also have affected the next song, so idiosyncratic is the voice of Richard Thompson. But their “Waltzings For Dreamers” works well, the arrangement suggesting a knowledge of the Four Men & A Dog version.
“High Sierra,” a song from the second Dolly, Emmylou and Linda collaboration Trio II, is pleasant enough, if drawing out too strongly the hint of a duller “Long May You Run.” Thankfully, once more, that blandness is excised by the next song, a swift banjo-driven gallivant through “Blue Virginia Blues,” all Blue Virginny rather than blues, the only blue being in the grass.
Which only leaves room for “Flowers Grave,” leaving well behind any hint of the author or his own version, revealing, to anyone not already in the know, how Tom Waits is one of the finest writers of wistful and whimsical songs we have. Within a glorious cello and pizzicato fiddle setting, the twin voices glide like warmed honey, the succor for an inflamed psyche. Full marks for performance, choice and presentation, leaving a glow of fond memory in the listener that establishes the project as all the more well worth the doing.
1. That’s How I Got To Memphis (Tom T. Hall cover)
2. These Days (Nico cover)
3. You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor cover)
4. If You Ain’t Got Love (Dolly Parton cover)
5. There’s a Rugged Road (Judee Sill cover)
6. I Will (Beatles cover)
7. I Get Along Without You Very Well (Dick Powell cover)
8. Feelin’ Good Again (Robert Earl Keen cover)
9. Waltzings For Dreamers (Richard Thompson cover)
10. High Sierra (Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris cover)
11. Blue Virginia Blues (Bill Harrell & the Virginians cover)
12. Flowers Grave (Tom Waits cover)