The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl and Ice Man
Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, collectively known as The Lowest Pair, have three critically lauded albums in their discography, but the dual release of two new albums will likely catapult their glowing reputations into the stratosphere. This prolific duo have blazed quite a creative trail since their 2013 formation, but unlike many bands and performing units, their productivity never seems rushed and their songwriting well apparently runs quite deep. The eleven songs on Fern Girl and Ice Man expand their sonic capabilities some, but the duo never ventures too far from their signature blueprint. The focus remains resolutely on the interaction between Winter and Lee. They share the spotlight equally and their respective turns on various songs all seem quite appropriate.
Lee’s voice opens Fern Girl and Ice Man on the vividly written “The River Will” and the harmony vocals between him and Winter leave every bit as much of an impression on the listener. Melody is one of the album’s abiding strengths and few songs are stronger in this regard. “Stranger” is less bluegrass-centric than the first song, but those influences are never far removed from the duo’s songwriting and exert themselves in often understated ways on songs like this. The track’s atmosphere is a little gloomier than what the duo presents on “The River Will”, but it’s difficult to not be drawn into the music’s evocative spell. “When They Dance the Mountains Shake” has a strong rhythmic current that carries listeners along from the first and it pulses with a loose, pawing playfulness that never oversteps its design. Winter’s voice has confidence you can hear in every line. Her vocal on “Spring Cleaning” is one the album’s best thanks to the great care she takes phrasing each line. The lyrical content seizes on the expected themes – rebirth, cleansing, contending with unruly pasts and presents – but the lyrics and Winter’s singing renders the experience in such an idiosyncratic fashion that it gives the song an individual spin.
“Totes” is the album’s briefest cut, but it’s also one of its most sharply observed lyrical pieces and given crackling life by Lee’s vocal. Winter joins him for harmonies throughout the song, but the magnifying glass remains on him throughout. There’s such a wealth of detail in the lyric that unites around its deeply affecting refrains. It’s an unlikely contender for one of the album’s best songs, perhaps, but more than a few will agree. “Sweet Breath” is probably one of the album’s most energetic numbers and Lee’s high-octane banjo playing is the chief spark plug in the song. Fern Girl and Ice Man’s last song “How Can I Roll?” is a superbly crafted ending that makes a statement without ever attempting to get too weighty. Winter’s easy, relaxed vocal is never overwrought and captures the ending’s sense of hard-won acceptance. This is as well-thought out of a release as you’ll hear from anyone this year, regardless of genre. The Lowest Pair are artists in every respect and this ranks among their finest work.
8 out of 10 stars.