The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl and Ice Man
The Lowest Pair, consisting of Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, have established themselves as among the pre-eminent recording and performing acts working in the Americana genre today. It’s really the best of all possible worlds for fans of the genre. Winter is a memorable vocalist with an impressive range and Lee has multi-faceted musical talents that become quickly apparent listening to this album. He certainly doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the banjo has limited uses. They fuse this supremely melodic musicality with profoundly developed lyrical talents capable of making liberal use of the past while nevertheless making resounding personal statements that could come from no other pen. Their album Fern Girl and Ice Man is the first of two simultaneous, yet utterly distinct, full length releases and its eleven song track list should solidify the duo’s reputation as first among equals in Americana music circles.
The album begins memorably with “The River Will”, an outstanding bluegrass track with a lyric that’s part interior monologue, part narrative, a bit of travelogue thrown in, and conversational in tone throughout. Lee’s voice has a firmer grasp of the blues than Winter’s, but they make an exceptional duo in harmony with Winter’s higher register offering a poignant counterpoint. “Tagged Ear” is an introspective song with a slightly mournful spirit, but it has a lightly understated melody that should linger with listener. It’s one of the album’s likely sleepers. The following song, “Stranger”, will garner much more immediate attention. It has much of the same gray spirit imbuing the preceding song, but Winter’s tour de force vocal helps put it over the top – as it does so many of the album’s songs. There’s a much rougher edge on “When They Dance the Mountains Shake” than what we’ve encountered in earlier songs, but it also has a charming, slightly thrown together quality. The drumming in the song alternates between assertive and tasteful.
“Spring Cleaning” is another introspective musical turn carried by its beautifully melodic guitar work and an equally lovely vocal from Winter. Lee’s singing takes over again on the verbose “Totes”, but it isn’t excessive verbiage by any means. The song is definitely more lyrically loaded than musically, but The Lowest Pair packs a significant amount of substance into the song’s two minutes and change running time. “Trick Candlelight” is one of the album’s cleverest songwriting turns with an extraordinarily moving vocal from Winter. The arrangement is equally exquisite without ever sounding too forced or straining for effect. The album’s closing song, “How Can I Roll”, brings things to a conclusive end and has an uniquely unifying effect illustrating the duo’s sharply attuned sense of construction. Fern Girl and Ice Man has a discernible development that it takes from first song to last and, when we cross the finish line with this last track, the feeling of bittersweet acceptance and the resolve to keep on keepin’ on is unmistakable. Winter’s voice alternates between a chin held high sense of purpose and ringing with overtones of regret.
This is one of the finest bluegrass releases of recent memory and shows a duo that is unafraid to take chances or write complex, non-derivative material. Fern Girl and Ice Man is one of The Lowest Pair’s finest moments and will likely stand from this point forward as one of the jewels in their discography.
9 out of 10 stars.