The Lowest Pair – Uncertain As It Is Uneven
The second of dual releases for The Lowest Pair in 2016, Uncertain as It is Uneven, is an eleven song effort that hews close to the duo’s traditional aesthetic. The first of the two releases, Fern Girl and Ice Man, takes far more out of the box musical chances than this release, but that doesn’t mean the latter outstrips the former. Both albums have their own flavor and criteria with which to judge their merits. Much like the other album, Kendl Winter takes the vocal lead, but Palmer T. Lee’s vocals make their presence felt more here than before and contribute something unique to what could otherwise come off as simply a fine bluegrass/folk release. Instead, the combination of these two talents elevates the release to something far more significant. It’s a vivid revamping of a traditional form for this modern age and is ample evidence of The Lowest Pair’s seemingly endless creativity.
The songwriting has a pensive, very organic quality. Many of the album’s songs seem to half-emerge rather than begin and the duo, while firmly a traditional act, has subtle ways of manipulating the arrangements in much the same way a rock song might develop. Brief lulls and tempo shifts aren’t uncommon in these songs and interesting dynamics result. Other songs are content to mine the traditional vein. The opener “The Company I Keep” and its follow-up “Keeweenaw Flower” are colorful and finely wrought examples of the duo’s command over bluegrass tropes and feature lovely vocal turns from Winter and Lee, in that order. The first song is much more solidly a bluegrass track while guitars take much more of a lead role in the follow-up, but the “feel” remains the same. These two songs open the album on a similar note struck by the album cover – essentially, Uncertain as It Is Uneven is a highly intelligent and ultimately pastoral effort. The Lowest Pair expend a great deal of creative energy invoking the sounds and textures of bygone eras and rural joy.
Some of the other songwriting has different touchstones. “37 Tears”, “The Sky is Green”, and “Dreaming of Babylon” share musical affinities with the aforementioned traditional songs, but there’s much more of a sense here that the duo uses the form as a stylized launching pad for more “artsy” lyrical explorations. To their credit, however, Lee and Winter never treat one type of song different from the other, but Winter’s vocals on “The Sky is Green” and “Dreaming of Babylon” is the best on this release. She brings loads of charm, sophistication, and entertainment to the songs via her vocal and technique helps bring it off. The album’s final song, “By Then Where Will That Be”, is the album’s longest effort and arguably its peak moment. The duo subtly combines their penchant for introspection with larger lyrical concerns and the instrumentation spreads out and moves in unpredictable ways. There’s never anything too heavy handed or obvious about how the performers develop the songs on Uncertain As It Is Uneven. This is satisfying and revealing group of songs that stick with you after they finish for many reasons, but their melodic qualities and sensitivity are among the best.
9 out of 10 stars.