The Lowest Pair – Uncertain As It Is Uneven
Long after its commercial eclipse in the 1950’s, bluegrass music has continued to lurk along the margins of the nation’s musical life with a small, but deeply devoted, following that persists across multiple generations. Much has been written about the reasons behind the lasting appeal of Americana musical forms like the bluegrass, blues, country, and folk genres and we don’t need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that The Lowest Pair, formed in 2013 by Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, understand the spirit driving this kind of music to the marrow of their beings and their internalized understanding of it informs and richens their songwriting throughout the release. These are superb musicians and singers, talented arrangers, and even in a small but significant way, practitioners of musical poetry at a high level. The release of Uncertain as It is Uneven will likely push the duo even higher in terms of critical respect and popular acclaim.
It begins gently with the tracks “The Company I Keep” and “Keeweenaw Flower”. The first is a gently unfolding song with a strong banjo presence but equally eloquent guitar work. The banjo and its six string counterpart weave effortlessly around each other and create a delicate, but strong mood that gives Winter an excellent foundation for her vocal. Lee offers muted vocal counterpoints that deepen the song’s emotional tenor. The second song is straight guitar throughout and has a slight jangle, at points, that gives it an added step. Palmer T. Lee’s dramatic reading is strengthened, and sweetened a little, but Winter’s contributions as a harmony vocalist. “Lonesome Sunrise” draws from a wealth of traditional imagery but, like the best material from this duo, they give it a highly individual twist with the specificity of their experiences and responses. The haunting beauty of their voices is, likewise, a vivid reminder of what makes them unique and those qualities are served well by this song and subject matter.
“37 Tears” and “The Sky is Green” are more poetic musical turns from the duo, but their moods are studies in contrast. The first is a mournful, mid-tempo banjo shuffle about despair with a capital D, manifested in strong imagery centered on numbers, and Palmer T. Lee’s vocal handles potentially difficult material with great care. “The Sky Is Green” has a slight air of melancholy just below the surface, but it’s a much brighter journey overall that gains an added layer of light from Winter’s lovely vocal. “Mason’s Trowel” is another Lee lead vocal, but Winter’s harmonies are as crucial as ever to pulling the song off. The machine gun musicianship never misses its mark or loses any feel despite the uptempo pace and it’s a strong, even slightly intricate lyric. “Holy Buckets” has a nice, striding quality generated by the marriage of banjo and guitar – the recurring figure, electrified and sped up, would make a great country rock riff. The album’s final song closes the collection on an anxious, but forward looking note with “By Then Where Will That Be”. It’s an extended song that ends Uncertain As It Is Uneven with the substantive statement it deserves.
9 out of 10 stars.