Friday, September 1, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - Songs for Mixed Company (2017)

Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin

Few Americana themed acts working today can lay claim to the prowess and power at Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s disposal. Vocalist and guitarist Phil Barry’s collaboration with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fuerst is certainly a marriage of equals – they are a stunning vocal match on each of Songs for Mixed Company’s ten tracks and the songwriting excellence stamped on this collection is certainly their joint responsibility. The performances are augmented with a small cast of supporting musicians who aid the duo in further fleshing out their artistic vision and their contributions are important factors in the album’s ultimate success, but the center of the achievement on this release is the glittering and often surprisingly diverse artistry the duo brings to bear on their compositions. These are deceptively simple compositions, but close listening reveals these are deeply observed songs with a wealth of detail and flashes of stunning poetry. Songs for Mixed Company establishes Thunderbolt and Lightfoot as a monumental force in the Americana/folk music community.

“Let’s Be Friends” might have a conciliatory title, but the song is clearly cast on a downbeat note about the fracturing of an intense relationship into something much more tenuous. The delicate acoustic guitar work ably supports Barry and Fuerst’s vocals without ever competing with them and the plain spoken poetry infusing the work makes it a memorable opener. The intimate qualities of the recording are equally powerful and further accentuate the mood. “Miss Me” is definitely one of the highlights on the release and recalls classic country balladry without ever succumbing to its excesses. The steel guitar touching the song at various points brings just enough color without ever risking cliché and the percussion, when it enters the song, punctuates the song in a tasteful and authoritative way. The darkness edging in on the opener “Let’s Be Friends” is in full flower on the song “Can’t Be Trusted” and the yearning coming through in the lyric doesn’t sound like love and lust full of light, but shadows instead. Mike Lynch’s ghostly organ touches further contributes to the haunted feeling.

There’s a waltz feel to “Sad Song” and the patient development of the song thanks to Barry and Fuerst results in clipped lines and a minimal musical arrangement that is suggestive without ever overshadowing the singers. The drumming, once again, provides some first class work and gives the song great shape. One can even detect an incongruous playfulness in the song that defies expectation. The retro old-tymey tenor of “Goodbye is Not the End” has much more of the inklings of playfulness we heard in the previous song, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are playing this for laughs. The musicianship remains at the same high level as before. “Vesper” sounds ripped from the folk music tradition, but there’s an understated and unabashed modern edge blurring its edges. It’s an instrumental, but quite evocative and never just some sort of placeholder or filler. Songs for Mixed Company rarely roars, but the whispers compromising their songwriting makes a deeper impact than one might suspect.

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