Graded on a Curve:
House and Land,
Across the Field

Both separately and as a duo, multi-instrumentalist and guitar specialist Sarah Louise (who earlier in 2019 released her fourth full-length) and fiddler-banjoist Sally Anne Morgan (noted as a member of Black Twig Pickers and for collaborating with Steve Gunn and Daniel Bachman) are known for their skill as players and for the ability to transform their chosen root sources. Together again as House and Land with a sophomore effort in the racks, the adroitness and freshness remain. However, there are other aspects to consider, including the smart, subtle integration of psychedelia. Across the Field is out on primrose colored vinyl, CD, and digital June 14 through Thrill Jockey.

The psychedelia that informs the superb Across the Field can be considered a ‘60s-descended thing, but it’s ultimately nearer to Sandy Bull than Strawberry Alarm Clock. This is to say that House and Land have no tangible ties to rock or pop; if released in the ’60s, this record’s concise seven-song runtime could’ve fit onto the Vanguard label, or perhaps Takoma or Folkways.

Inching into the ‘70s, a few parts unfurl like they could’ve been one of the leftfield releases on The Youngblood’s custom Raccoon imprint, though other moments, such as closer “Ca the Yowes,” don’t sound like that at all. This emphasizes a beneficial stylistic range that when combined with the aforementioned succinctness and sharpness of execution, elevates Across the Field to the level of delightful.

Opener “Two Sisters” illuminates a persistent lack of intimidation regarding oft-recorded sources as this version differs markedly from the others I’ve heard. This is in part through the mingled beauty of Morgan’s banjo and Sarah Louise’s electric guitar, both in her patterns of repetition and in her soloing, which nicely introduces the psych atmosphere. I also like how the lyrics mention the pair’s choice of moniker as the blended voices are once again simply exquisite.

That “Two Sisters” is distinct in approach should be no surprise, as House and Land are adapters rather than replicators. This pertains not just to the instrumental vibrance but to the words of the songs. “Rainbow ‘mid Life’s Willows” offers both, with the guitar glistening and the fiddle saw-swaying beautifully as Sarah Louise chooses to ditch the admiring descriptions of the controlling male figures in the song’s earlier manifestations (I know the Lomax-recorded version by Almeda Riddle), instead calling those characters “mean” and “cruel.”

If this seems a departure from the studious, reverential nature of many neo-old-time musicians, that’s because it is. But it’s wholly for the good, for the songs come alive as House and Land interpret them anew; if the psychedelic aura of Across the Field can harken back to the ’60s (again, subtly so), the duo’s penchant for lyrical adaptation (or as highlighted further below, exclusion) insures that these songs reverberate with meaning in 2019 and will continue to matter in the decades ahead.

Based in North Carolina with shared interest in the music of Appalachia, House and Land’s foundation gets underscored with the banjo and guitar weave of “Cursed Soldier.” Time spent soaking up VA-NC-KY folk root forms will provide more than a few links to the old country across the Atlantic, and that’s just what the oft-recorded “Blacksmith” does here.

“Cursed Soldier” and “Blacksmith” underscore the duo’s breadth (and cohesiveness) of source material, but both are robust musically, with crisp guitar spots enhancing the former as “Blacksmith” features double tin whistle and glockenspiel along with what sounds like Sarah Louise’s shruti box in a blended drone with Morgan’s fiddle. The harmony vocals cap it all off.

This is all a deft leadup to what’s essentially Across the Field’s showcase, the exquisite “Carolina Lady.” This time, rather than alter the words, they just leave ‘em out entirely. Stretching to nearly eight minutes, they bring in a kick drum and then set it aside (don’t worry, it eventually comes back) as the pair’s interweaved explorations on guitar and fiddle attain a wonderfully searching and abstract plateau.

Psychedelic? Oh, yeah. But organically so, and yet the instrumental layering in the vibrant “Precious Jewel” further accentuates that House and Land are disinterested in cultivating an air of the traditionally (tritely) rustic. And then one final sweet gesture counteracting any museum-like mothballs tendencies comes via the spiritually tinged alto-recorder in “Ca the Yowes,” a Scottish folk song collected by Robert Burns, with the poem considered to be the work of Isabel Pagan.

House and Land’s use of the alto-recorder highlights the song’s origins while simultaneously suggesting other possibilities, like a warm, bright morning somewhere in the Southwest US. It’s this reliably multifaceted quality (and the absence of any perceptible strain) that solidifies Across the Field as a worthy follow-up to their excellent debut.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text