To my ears, vocal duets often succeed when the voices blend so seamlessly they sound as one. The notes come together naturally, finding harmonic precision and a matching tone that helps to propel the story and evoke emotion. Pharis and Jason Romero have mastered that sound, and it makes this CD memorable.
The Canadian couple, on guitar and banjo, has a soulful roots sound that emerges from their harmonies. Their melodies are timeless and haunting, yet tug at the traditional, even in originals. Everything else blossoms from their voices. The title-track explores the reasons that some people seek stability while others are unable to put down roots. From the very first notes, in a style reminiscent of Welch/Rawlings that carries from that opening number throughout this 12-song CD, I was hooked and had to hear more. That’s when the original “Ballad Of Old Bill” started, with its taut harmonies set over clawhammer banjo, about a wandering, free-spirited Civil War soldier. It’s brooding, with the main character riding free, high in the saddle of his mount, Old Dan. By contrast, the following song, “There’s No Companion,” is joyous with soaring fiddle (Josh Rabie) and an infectious sing-along hook. “Goodbye, Old Paint” and the mournful Civil War song “The Dying Soldier” ply the public domain. Others also are lovely arrangements, from the classic Billy Mayhew number “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” with poignant pedal steel (Marc Jenkins), to the playful style of the ’20s song “Cocaine Blues.” Jason Romero, who also plays a gourd banjo, offers up unique banjo instrumentals in different tunings. One, “Backstep Indi,” was inspired by their toddler daughter; the other, “Old September,” is inspired by a late summer evening playing in the garden.
Adding to the mix are John Hurd on bass and Brent Morton on drums, but the production from the Romeros and David Travers-Smith is sparse and tasteful, never overwhelming. They place the focus, rightfully so, on Pharis and Jason’s voices, and those are magnificent and inviting. (www.pharisandjason.com)SI