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The Lowlies: The Lowlies
(Airloom Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/8/2023)
Acoustic folk-influenced music definitely seems to be making something of a comeback among younger audiences. There is now a folk category among college radio-oriented music charts. And the quality of new and emerging artists is very encouraging, performers who are drawing on the traditions of mostly acoustic instrumentation, literate lyrics, and often strong vocal harmonies. And on the subject of vocal harmonies, among the emerging folk-style artists are quite a few spouse duos, husbands and wives making music together, with, in many cases, their musical partnership leading to the marital vows. In recent months we have featured recordings in this album review series by the Bombadils, The Foreign Landers, Pharis and Jason Romero; and there are the long-running duos The Kennedys and Gillian Welch with David Rawlings. This week, we have the impressive debut my another husband-wife folk duo, The Lowlies. The album is also called The Lowlies.
The Lowlies are Carolyn and Caleb Spaulding, who as their bio says, “fell in love singing together.” They pursued their dream of making music, but the music business was at first not kind to them. Around 2015, they did a bunch of discouraging gigs, which saw them opening for punk and hardcore bands, or playing venues where nobody listened to them. So they decided to hang it up, with Carolyn swearing off touring. They took non-musical jobs – Caleb as a carpenter and Carolyn working in a bakery and cleaning offices. They settled down to raise a family, dispirited at their lack of success, and decided to put their music aside, to the point that Caleb suffered bouts of depression. But a call from a friend and fan provided encouragement, and during the pandemic, some of their demos made their way to Los Angeles-based producer Tyler Chester, who worked with Madison Cunningham among others. The Spauldings decided to plunge into making an album, traveling from their cabin in Western New York, to Southern California, and calling on friends, and a crowdfunding website to raise the money for the album, with Caleb even selling his motorcycle that’s on the band’s publicity picture. In the course of a week, with their three young children staying at home, they worked with studio musicians, including drummer Kyle Crane, and Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins, to come up with their debut album, which turns out to be a gem, with all the things you could want in a high quality contemporary folk album – great vocal harmonies, tuneful, poetic songs, and the dominance of the acoustic guitar. Their album alternates acoustic tunes and some in which the band of gathered musicians is more prominent, though often still with an acoustic texture. Lyrically the songs can take a kind of melancholy direction, though there are variations on the basic love song.
Opening is Pages of My Mind with a classic folky finger-pick acoustic guitar setting, a prime example of their melancholy love songs. <<>> But later on, the band enters to match the rise in the intensity of the lyrics. <<>>
A track called called Delta Star features a kind of spooky ambiance. It seems to be about a fugitive. <<>>
Carolyn Spaulding is lead vocalist on a Maybe Wilmington another song about trying to get away. <<>>
Song for Ruth is about the folkiest-sounding track on the album, highlighting the acoustic guitar and Sara Watkins’ fiddle, and with lyrics apparently about a parting of the ways. <<>>
A bit toward country with steel guitar is Drive the Blade a seemingly autobiographical song about working and taking time for ones self. <<>>
Another traveling song is Drink from the Well with its darker quality in a minor key. For me, it’s one of the highlights of the album. <<>>
One of the more interesting pieces on the recording is called Aerostar, with its sad waltz setting and rather mysterious lyrics. <<>>
The album ends with its most upbeat track, lyrically and perhaps musically. Simple Reminder is a love song that is also a celebration the arrival of spring. <<>>
The Lowlies the eponymous debut album by the duo of the same name, from the Buffalo, New York, area is another excellent example of the return of folk music influence in the post-alternative music world, and another great husband-wife duo, a format which goes back to the earliest days of the 1960s folk scene. Carolyn and Caleb Spaulding, after getting discouraged and pretty much giving up on music, fortunately got a break with a connection to a producer, and managed to raise funds to finance the making of the album. The result is an outstanding recording, with very appealing vocal harmonies and high quality writing.
Our grade for audio quality is about a B-plus. Much of the time the acoustic sections are nicely recorded, but when the band enters, sometimes clarity suffers, and the dynamic range can be less than optimal.
For me, I can’t get enough of good folk-influenced, acoustic-based music with strong vocal harmonies. On their new album, the Lowlies provide that in spades.
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