Graham Reid | | 2 min read
As their name implies, this country-folk duo of Jack Ringhand and Lara Robertson out of Dunedin are indeed towering and leggy figures.
On this 10-song debut Tall Folk arrive as fully formed and impressive songwriters who shift effortlessly from downbeat political folk (Empire) to the jaunty sounding but lyrically wry (Could Be Worse) and the downright gorgeous soundscape of the title track at the end.
This is an album which rewards unpicking.
If you'd never heard Dolly Parton's Jolene, Robertson's Dani addressing a similar sentiment – but with more complexity in its forgiving tone and understanding -- is outstanding as she aches through it with pedal steel and violin: “Dani won't you leave my man to me, I know you must be lonely, I know it's hard to let go . . . he's not strong enough to let you go”.
Westward at first hearing seems the slightest piece here as Ringhand repeats the line “I'm moving westward”.
But on careful listening his tone too takes on greater depth with an unstated backstory and an almost defeated mood in the final verse which is akin to one of the most reflective ballads of Springsteen's middle period: “I see the frame as clear as day, but no picture yet”.
After Robertson's somewhat bleak ballad Man Alone (“on an island, died alone, nobody there to save him”) Ringhand's upbeat Take One with flighty fiddle comes as the necessary counterpoint.
Could Be Worse will bring a slow smile as it juggles the cheery melody with the lyrics: “See that butcher cut that meat, at least I ain't what I eat . . . could be worse, Lord”.
An American expat, Ringhand reflects on his damaged homeland in the sad, stately and thoughtful Empire: “I pledged allegiance, stood tall in the bleachers but war crimes and your lies weren't in the agreement . . . don't you claim my name on your firearms sent to the Middle East . . . I ain't dyin' in the empire”.
It's as striking an album opener as that lovely title track is as a closer.
There is intelligence, breadth and depth here in songs delivered with classic country harmonies and assured solo passages.
And the support is equally superb from drummer Paul McLennan-Kissel, bassist John Dodd, Craig Monk (violin, viola), John Egenes (pedal steel, dobro, mandolin), keyboard player Tom Corrigan and Ryan Finnie (percussion).
Recorded in Port Chalmers by Tom Bell and mastered by David Glasser (Grateful Dead, Mandolin Orange) at Airshow Mastering in Colorado, this is as fine an album – be it local or international, country or folk or what have you – as you are likely to hear.
You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here
Tall Folk's Wiser tour dates
Dog With Two Tails, Dunedin, Jan 14
Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru, Jan 15
Wunderbar, Lyttleton, Jan 16
The Boathouse, Nelson, Jan 21
The Mussel Inn Onekaka, Jan 23
Meow, Wellington, Jan 26
Common Room Hastings, Jan 27
The Back Room, Thames, Jan 30
Leigh Sawmill, Leigh, Jan 31
Craft Beer & Food Festival, Dunedin, Feb 4 and 5
Christchurch Folk Music Club, Feb 13