The Lowest Pair – Uncertain as It Is Uneven
Tradition’s trappings can only carry you so far. Fans of Americana music, in all its forms, have a built in disposition to greet talented offerings in that vein with an uncritical love. Such fans are pleased, if nothing else, to hear the past so faithfully recreated and given modern production values rather than being forever consigned to the passing years and increasingly scratchy 45 records. However, there’s no way you’re going to leave any sort of lasting mark on listener’s consciousness, needless to say posterity itself, by merely recreating the past glories of other people. There needs to be some kind of transformational quality woven into the music that elevates it above mere tribute. The performers and writers have to heed the deeper lessons of this sort of music – ultimately, it isn’t the particular instruments used that matter, but instead it’s the force and flavor of individual personalities spinning those traditional elements in new ways that is the lifeblood of an enduring musical style.
The Lowest Pair, a duo consisting of Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, hail from Washington State and Minnesota respectively. Winter, originally born in Arkansas, has a voice steeped in mud, whiskey, and sultry summer nights, but she’s able to twist it at will into a probing instrument that wouldn’t be out of place on any singer/songwriter album. Lee is an amazing banjo player and far more than some plonker with one speed and drawing from a twangy grab bag of clichés. He’s also a fine singer as he demonstrates on “Keeweenaw Flower”, a sturdy track that sounds plucked from the pages of some Southern America songbook. Lee’s singing manages to memorably bring confidence and sensitivity together in a single package and well-timed harmony touches from Winter deepen the vocal melody. “Lonesome Sunrise” has a light, meandering pace but never loses its focus. The Lowest Pair prove, on this album and its “sister” release, that they are gifted with an expert understanding about how to develop this material. Patience rewards them and the listener. “Lonesome Sunrise” might, initially, seem like a relatively unadorned bluegrass effort, but closer and repeated listening reveals subtleties in the arrangement and playing that give it genuine distinction.
“Like I Did Before” has a clear, slightly moody melody propelled forward by Lee’s banjo and Winter’s vocal responds in kind with a fluid, yet indelibly chiseled rendition. She’s the duo’s finest interpreter of the material, if for no other reason than she has an approach that invariably covers all of the bases with these songs. “The Sky Is Green” is another memorable outing for Winter thanks to, arguably, her best singing performance on the release. The lyrics have a welcome playful quality underlined with some of the duo’s customary melancholy while the arrangement easily rates among the album’s finest. The last two songs on Uncertain as It Is Uneven end things on a slowly falling note. “Pretend It’s True” is a song dealing with timeless relationship issues, but it speaks more about our human interactions than anything as specific as romantic love. The finale “By Then Where Will That Be” has a similar musical feel, but it’s larger in scope lyrically. Both songs rely on slow, patient development to resolve themselves and do so quite well.
Uncertain as It Is Uneven is one of the year’s most interesting releases, genres be damned, but within the world of Americana music, it’s likely true that this double release will firm up the duo’s position as leaders in the field. It’s a marvelous effort.
9 out of 10 stars.