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The Bombadils: Dear Friend
(Independent Release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/26/2023)
There seems to be a bit of a renaissance of co-ed folk duos, with some very nice albums resulting. The duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings probably helped set the pattern. Recently we reviewed a fine album by one such duo the Foreign Landers, and well as Pharis and Jason Romero, and Oliver the Crow in the past couple of years. A number of the those duos end up being marital partners in addition to musical colleagues. This week we have another excellent example. It’s by the Canadian group The Bombadils, who have released their fourth album called Dear Friend.
The Bombadils, named after a character in The Lord of the Rings, consists of Sarah Frank and Luke Fraser. They met while each was studying music at McGill University in Toronto. The Bombadils were at that time what they describe as a “freewheeling music collective,” with variable members playing fiddle tunes, traditional folk songs and even jazz standards. Luke Fraser became a fan and met Sarah Frank at a party, where he asked to join the group. The pair became fast musical friends, and eventually a couple, as they were attending classes on classical music. They released their first album shortly thereafter, and since 2015 have been touring extensively throughout Canada, and as far as Copenhagen.
Their last album was in 2016, and since then, Fraser and Ms. Frank, moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and started raising a family. The new album Dear Friend came together slowly, amidst lockdown periods during the pandemic, moving to the new city, and demands of a new family. It’s also their first album of all original music, with songs that run the gamut lyrically from celebratory love songs to the contemplation of old, fading memories and photos, and even one that considers a miscarriage.
The duo are mainly self-contained with Ms. Frank on fiddle and banjo, and Fraser on various acoustic and electric guitars. They are joined by bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, who has recorded with mandolin sensation Sierra Hull, and several tracks feature a harp played by Sarah McInnis. Patrick Reid is also heard on bass. The sound is intimate, but with Fraser’s electric guitars, the album can get somewhat atmospheric. But probably the its strongest asset is the vocal harmonies, and especially Ms. Frank’s clear, airy soprano, a good match for Fraser’s rather high tenor.
Leading off is a piece called Bicycle highlighting the delightful sound of the album. The bicycle in question is a sort of metaphor as a means to get away, and be on the road. Ellen Gibling is heard on harp. <<>>
Also featuring the harp is Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming, with Luke Fraser doing the lead vocals. The lyrics are an appreciation of the good small things of life, despite adversity. <<>>
Sarah Frank is heard on banjo on another charming track called Through and Through a pretty love song in waltz time. <<>>
Losing Track of Time features Fraser providing a more atmospheric sound on electric guitar, on another of their songs celebrating love. <<>>
Heartbeat is a poignant composition reflecting on being the subsequent daughter of a mother who miscarried her first-born. It’s given an appropriately intimate setting. <<>>
A contrast to that is a bluegrass-old-timey styled song called Records and Rent with the impoverished protagonist offering up valued records in lieu of the rent that was due. <<>>
Fraser and Frank celebrate family and how quickly a child grows on another highlight of the album Little Days. <<>>
The album closes with its title piece Dear Friend reflecting on friendship over a distance. <<>>
Dear Friend, the new fourth album by the Canadian folk duo of spouses The Bombadils, is delightful recording of intimate folk marked by excellent vocal harmonies, literate lyric writing and an intimate, though sometimes eclectic mostly acoustic setting. It joins a list of other worthwhile co-ed folk duos with recent releases, including the Foreign Landers, Pharis and Jason Romero, Oliver the Crow, and of course, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I think that Dear Friend is among the most appealing of them.
Our grade for audio quality is a “A” with a clean, warm sound that treats the acoustic instruments well. Most of the album was recorded in Halifax, with Ethan Jodziewicz and the other string players having recorded their parts from home in Nashville.
Although it’s hardly going the shake the commercial music world, there does seem to be a growing number in intimate acoustic folk duos. The Bombadils are a reminder that the form has a lot to offer, and this album in particular is a gem.
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