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The Other Favorites: Unamericana
(Independent Release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/9/2022)
Folk duos have a long history in music, popularized in the 1960s by Simon & Garfunkel, Ian & Sylvia, Richard & Mimi Fariña, Brewer & Shipley, and in more recent decades Lowen & Navarro, Gillian Welch with David Rawlings, and the Milk Carton Kids.
This week we have a new recording by an impressive duo who evoke some of that folk sound, and even draw influences from music of previous generations, with some songs that can sound like the era of Tin Pan Alley. They call themselves The Other Favorites, and their new release, their fourth is called Unamericana.
The similarly bespectacled Joshua Lee Turner and Carson McKee met at an 8th grade talent show in Charlotte, North Carolina, and have been performing together ever since. They released their debut album in 2011, and after an additional studio recording in 2018, they released one called Live in London in 2019.
Their new album was made in Brooklyn, New York, where they are currently based. It was largely recorded live and the duo has been posting those performances on YouTube, which have gotten thousands of views. Turner and McKee are largely self-contained on the new album, but between them, they play a raft of different guitars and other instruments. There are some guest appearances, including by singer-songwriter Reina del Cid on backing vocals, and Matt Sales on the drums, which incidentally were recorded in London.
Their music format is simple, mostly a couple of guitars and vocals, but The Other Favorites really get it right with consistently melodic songs, and lyrics that are literate and sometimes poetically vague. Though the duo perform vocal harmonies, most of the tunes on the album feature a single lead voice for most of the parts. As mentioned, the songs can musically evoke a previous era, from Sixties folk to hints of Tin Pan Alley, to traditional folk, to old-time country, to melodic pop songs. It’s all delivered very tastefully with the an easy-going style that while it may hint at past eras, it’s not slavishly nostalgic.
Opening is a piece called Roses and Gloom which is typical of the album with its inviting musical approach but with lyrics that are more bittersweet. <<>>
Have Mercy is a sort of a love-song from someone who feels he might be as good as he should be. <<>>
A track called Harbinger features banjo with a traditional sound and decidedly darker lyrics. <<>>
The title piece Unamericana is another interesting composition with a kind of dystopian view. <<>>
With the added musicians, including bass, drums and the backing vocals of Reina Del Cid is Victory Bells with seeming allegorical references to the state of the world. <<>>
Evoking the mood of an old country song from perhaps the likes of Johnny Cash is Cherry Wine. It’s one of the high points of the album in a kind of dark way. <<>>
Another song that conjures an earlier era in folk music is Low Country which the duo perform with just the right musical ingredients. <<>>
Turner and McKee include one cover on their album I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen. They do a respectable version, and the song does well in this acoustic context. <<>>
The album ends with its rockiest track, Up to Me with essentially a full band, for an infectiously melodic pop song. <<>>
Unamericana the new fourth album by the duo The Other Favorites carries on the great tradition of the folk duo. Carson McKee and Josh Turner are wide-ranging in their sources of inspiration, from country to pre-rock pop songs, which they perform in an outwardly easy-going melodic style, but with studied attention to detail, and excellent musicianship. Sometimes their lyrics are decidedly less sunny than their music, but it makes for interesting listening, which you either hum along to, or ponder.
Our grade for sound quality is an “A.” The sound is clean, warm and unfettered by studio effects. The album’s credits notes that it was recorded on analog equipment and tape. That’s not always a recipe for good sound, but in this case, it works well.
The Other Favorites have breathed new life into a durable form, and done it with a lot of class.
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