Talking Elephant 2022
British rustic duo shake off post-pandemic rust to sculpt a folksy masterpiece out of classic material.
As a married couple, Maggie Kenny and Drew Wegg cannot be indifferent to the ways of or world where peril seems to be lurking around every corner, be it a real-life or mythological bend; as amateur artists, the pair feel the urge to express their existential angst in a folk song, making this fear eternal. That’s why the title of the first album by PAXTON & MORRIS, the husband and wife’s nom de guerre which may remind us of a certain American troubadour and certain English dance, should be perceived on a much larger scale than an after-Covid peeking around the door: through forming a fresh context for a few favorite numbers, Wegg and Kenny take their chosen genre’s contemporary paradigm back to the forefront of protest – a move still relevant today, when wars are raging and guns a-blazing. However, the listener is more likely to latch onto the minstrels’ delivery rather than the material selection where moods get shifted from Scottish lore to Appalachian tales and beyond.
So while there’s a reality check in the punchy opener, “The Devil’s Right Hand” from Steve Earle’s repertoire, which sees Maggie’s bass punctuate Drew’s strum over honeyed vocal harmonies and Kevin Dempsey’s guitar filigree, and a checkout is offered in the countrified finale of Richard Shindell’s twangy “Next Best Western” whose echoes will linger long after the record’s end, Kenny’s velvet voice and cello on Sydney Carter’s “Crow On The Cradle” sound truly mesmeric, and the romantically fatigued “I Cannot Keep From Cryin’ Sometimes” that’s laden with fiddle and harmonica feels possessed of stronger cinematic, Western-tinctured allure. The band’s vibrant approach to FAIRPORTS’ “Crazy Man Michael” and Zoe Lakota-Baldwin’s “Silkie Lullaby” are a litmus test for any singer, passed by Wegg’s supple pipes and the entire ensemble’s orchestral prowess with magnificently flying, if fittingly patinated, colors, yet their communal handling of Dylan’s “Señor” comes little short of sensational as well, as do “The Ballad Of Henry Lee” and “Silver Dagger” – two traditional tracks revealing the pair’s understanding of the idiom’s nuances and highlighting an exquisite, and sometimes playful, lace courtesy of former Swarb associate Dempsey.
The result of the couple’s delving into classics could be breathtaking if it wasn’t so unhurriedly paced, but the little collective’s next step must appear as soon as possible because their originals have a great beginning to follow.