This husband and wife team have been playing together for over a decade but various distractions (playing with the Guthrie Family Rides Again tour, having a couple of children, producing a well-received children's album) seem to have got in the way of their career as a duo, so that this is only their second studio album together. Gathering a lot of musical friends to help out, including Neal Casal and ex-jayhawks Gary Louris and Mark Olson, they pulled twelve songs that belonged together from their accumulating collection, and brought in producers Thom Monahan and Andy Cabic, maybe best known for their work with Devendra Banhart. As you might expect with that sort of personnel around, there is a Californian sunniness to the music they've come up with, harking back to Gram Parsons, early Neil Young and a little Byrds-ian jangle. It's a sound that's all their own, though, made distinctive by their harmonising; Johnny's voice is a bit of a ringer for Neil Young at times, high and a little plaintive, and the warm clear sweetness of Sarah Lee's voice fits beautifully alongside.
As fragile and beautiful as a butterfly on a drowsy summer afternoon, this music will carry you along in a happy daydream, the elements of each song and the songs themselves melding into each other as softly as could be. Only the occasional moment of edgy electric guitar intrudes on the mood, introducing undercurrents of tension to cut across the dreaminess. I haven't been able to work out all the lyrics by any means, but there are certainly more serious moments ("Going to have to learn/To cry quietly") to set alongside the gentle contemplation in songs like Seven Sisters and First Snow. Everything about the arrangements is very measured, quiet, piano-led tunes being matched by gently meshing guitars. The nearest they get to a big tune is probably Never Far From My Heart , which has that must-have-heard-it-before quality to match the warm tones of Sarah and Johnny harmonising in classic style.
With a host of songs in the locker and a burst of enthusiasm for getting them worked out on record, this looks like the start of a run of music from these guys though I suspect they won't quite repeat the dreamy beauty of Bright Examples.
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