The Lowest Pair – Fern Girl and Ice Man
Released by Team Love Records, Fern Girl and Ice Man is another sterling collaboration between singer/songwriters Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee. Since they formed The Lowest Pair in 2013, the duo have earned fulsome praise from every quarter for their beautiful modern rendering of traditional bluegrass mixed with country, blues, and folk influences. They’ve earned an equal amount, if not more, praise for their songwriting. Their lyrics verge on performed poetry much of the time thanks to their frequent bursts of compelling concrete imagery, but their songwriting mettle is visible in how they mix those sustained flashes with much more non-specific, open-ended lines that allow the listeners to divine their own individual meanings. Their talents as musicians are beyond reproach. Palmer T. Lee, in particular, shows the fruits of playing banjo since his nineteenth birthday and he has an astonishing grip on a number of playing styles. It often happens, when listening to efforts like this, experience listeners can get a sense of musicians restrained by a form often considered narrow or limited. The Lowest Pair never sound like that. Each of the album’s eleven songs glows with freedom and boundless creativity.
Winter dominates much of the album vocally, but Lee is never far away for harmonies. Songs like “Tagged Ear”, “Spring Cleaning”, and “Trick Candlelight” highlight her breathtaking ability to dramatically turn a phrase, but her emotive powers are even greater. There’s a strong sense of determination fueling each of the album’s songs, but tracks like those aforementioned are tinged with numerous passages of bittersweet regrets, moments of despair, and bouts of deep longing that Winter’s vocals bring to vivid life. The second and third songs listed, specifically, are among the album’s best conceptualized efforts from start to finish. Nothing ever feels half developed on Fern Girl and Ice Man in the songwriting department, but these tracks are rather distinguished even in such impressive company. Her final vocal gem comes with the album’s finale, “How Can I Roll?” Winter does a beautifully understated job of exploring the song’s unusually wide array of emotions while never upsetting the delicate balance between the spare arrangement and her voice.
Lee’s two lead vocal turns are among the album’s most important tracks. The first, Fern Girl and Ice Man’s opener “The River Will”, is only one example of the album’s propensity for nestling interesting storytelling alongside recognizable and still lively tropes of the genre. The flop houses and boarding rooms of bluegrass songs past have turned into backstreets and cheap motels in The Lowest Pair’s world. The iconography of the songwriting has changed, but the guiding impulses remain the same – these are incidents of life exaggerated into musical art. The later song “Totes” is one of the album’s finest tracks. It’s quite short, clocking in at only a little over two minutes in length, but it’s a lyrical bonanza with a deceptively wide lens. Many will find his singing during the song’s chorus to be quite affecting.
This cross-genre offering still resides firmly within the Americana area and is sure to make many “best of” lists for 2016. It’s paired with a second, completely different album entitled Uncertain As It Is Uneven and shows a duo willing to take some musically chances left uncharted on earlier efforts. The Lowest Pair succeed at everything they attempt on Fern Girl and Ice Man leaving listeners with one of 2016’s best recorded works.
8 out of 10 stars.