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The Graham Album Review #2192

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Eric Brace & Thomm Jutz: Simple Motion

(Red Beet Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/3/2024)

Folk music duos have been around for generations, back to Simon & Garfunkel, Ian & Sylvia, Brewer & Shipley, Seals & Croft, Lowen & Navarro, Indigo Girls. The list goes on and on. Sometimes, the duo performs the songs of one of the members, such as Simon & Garfunkel, but frequently they are creative collaborations in addition to being performing associations. Many of those duos have been long-running pairings, but sometimes two independent songwriters get together for an interesting collaborative one-off album, such as the excellent recent joint recording by Tom Paxton and John McCutcheon which we reviewed in this series last year. And we have another of those duo albums this time. It’s a new joint project by Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz called Simple Motion.

There’s something about the Nashville music scene that seems to encourage songwriting collaborations. Brace and Jutz are both denizens of Music City. The two have been working together for several years, and collaborated on five albums together with Brace’s band called Last Train Home, with Brace’s musical partner Peter Cooper. Thomm Jutz was born in Germany but dreamt of coming to Nashville, which he was able to do after lucking out in a US Green Card lottery. He has been based in the US for over 20 years now and has partnered with and served as a sideman for such artists as Nanci Griffith, Kim Richey, Mary Gauthier and others. After Brace’s musical partner Cooper died in 2022, Brace and Jutz renewed their collaboration. Incidentally, Thomm Jutz also worked together on another fine acoustic singer-songwriter duo album with Tim Stafford, called Lost Voices which we also reviewed last year.

Brace and Jutz’ joint album, Simple Motion follows much the same pattern as Lost Voices which was also recorded in Jutz’ studio. It’s all-acoustic with mostly bluegrass style instrumentation, with some light drums, though some of the tracks are just the two of them with guitar and/or mandolin. Other players on the album include Justin Moses and Richard Bailey on banjos, Mike Compton on mandolin, drummer Lynn Williams and bassist Mark Fain. The album’s fourteen songs cover a fairly wide variety of topics, though several tend toward the philosophical. While most of the songs are collaborations between Brace and Jutz, there are several that involve Jutz or Brace jointly writing with others, including one song with the words of English poet John Masefield set to music by Eric Brace.

Opening is a song called Frost on the South Side a historical piece about harvesting wheat in Alberta, Canada, which traditionally brought in hundreds of workers by train, work which was threatened by the advent of the mechanical combine harvester. <<>>

That is followed by a song called Burn, by Thomm Jutz and Finn Goodwin-Bain, done in an intimate setting with just two guys and two guitars. The song basically says try to bring some light into the world. <<>>

The title track Simple Motion, a joint Brace-Jutz composition brings in the bluegrass group in a set of lyrics using a train metaphorically about the directions and cycles of life. <<>>

The effects of the pandemic on musicians and songwriters was very profound, and the disruptions that it caused to their way of life are still turning up in songs. Just a Moment was inspired by a time when neighbors held socially distant neighborhood talent contests for kids as a way to break up the monotony. <<>>

Another incident that inspired a song is represented on the track Can’t Change the Weather about weather-related travel disruptions and extending that to a kind of acceptance of what the world gives you. <<>>

One of the more interesting songs is When London Was the World a joint Brace-Jutz composition set in the 1930s, when during a perilous time, the “cosmopolitan soul” as they describe the protagonist, just tries to dance and party away. <<>>

With some Celtic influence is the song Adam and Eve about a naval disaster off the coast of Ireland, and the two small islands nicknamed Adam and Eve. <<>>

The track with the John Masefield poem set to music is Sea Fever. Eric Brace writes that the words have been set to music before, but he wanted to add his own interpretation, and it’s nicely done. <<>>

Simple Motion the new collaborative album by Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz, is a first rate recording of high quality songs done in an understated acoustic setting. While it’s the first album by the two singer-songwriters as a duo, they have worked together on previous projects, so their musical rapport was already well-established. They cover a wide range of subjects, from the historical to the pandemic, but interestingly, there are no love songs to speak of on the album. The production is particularly tasteful ranging from just the duo with their guitars to the bluegrass style group with light drums, with the arrangements well suited for each song.

Our grade for audio quality is pretty much an “A” for good clarity, a warm sound on the acoustic instruments, and hardly any studio effects, not even noticeable reverb on the vocals.

Folk duos are a long-established format in music, the combination of the perspective of two different writers, and the vocal harmonies, can make for timeless listening. Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz have created another outstanding example.

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