Banjo maker, Jason Romero and his wife, Pharis, mine the depths of old-time country music in style and substance. They deliver their message in clear and direct voices in their singing and writing. Pharis sings in a style and voice similar to Gillian Welch but more forceful. Jason plays a wide range of guitars and banjos. His command of the banjo is immediately obvious. His guitar playing is tasteful and precise. They live in the old songs, making them new and their own as in “Hillbilly Blues” a version of the old classic “Hesitation Blues” from Uncle Dave Macon. Interestingly, in their approach to old-time with a timeless touch, the banjo is as often fingerpicked instead of clawhammer. They recast Leadbelly’s “Out On The Western Plains” to sound like something Dock Boggs might have done, had he listened to Belà Fleck.
For fans of fine duet singing, get this CD. These folks know the genre and have an uncanny blend that melds into one voice. The songs they write blend with the traditional material. They mold the voices and instruments together to make the old material their own. Everything takes on an introspective and searching quality, dreamlike yet real. Each piece here is a living breathing being and not some rote reiteration of a static piece. Their readings of Karl and Hartys “I’m Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail” and Dottie Rambo’s “It’s Me Again Lord” learned from the Cooke Duo take on a new dimension from their readings. They visit Uncle Dave again for “Wait Till The Clouds Roll By” and the Carter Family for “Engine 143,” ranging from tender to train wrecks, mining the depth of emotions that are contained herein.
Pharis wrote four of the songs here and co-wrote one, “Forsaken Love,” with Jason. The material ranges in content and captures deeply held convictions. As in “Only Gold,” she digs to the truth of a situation and explores the impacts of decision made by the few for the many. The exploration of ideas, in words and music makes this a recording that draws the listener in and opens up the mind and ear to new things. Subtly is the byword. “My Flowers, My Companions And Me” is sung with the banjo played three-finger style and then reprised at the end of the recording as an instrumental played clawhammer on the banjo by Jason with Pharis’s sensitive accompaniment on guitar. The words can be heard in the banjo, the banjo that bounces along and fades away.(LuLu Records, P.O. Box 124, Horsefly, BC, V0L 1L0 Canada, www.jasonandpharis.com.) RCB