This isn’t a live album in the way that you think: it’s live in the sense of two musicians playing together, no overdubs or added tracks. There’s less audience noise than you’d expect from a live album, as in none at all. There’s more effect than we’d expect to hear on a live album, at least one that wasn’t recorded in the 80s. They say that it was recorded in a “handful of hours” within a single day. Um. Okay. I’m not sure why it matters one way or the other. It’s not a race, but if you need a stopwatch, fair enough.
Martin Harley is a dobro player, and he has the kind of voice we’d associate with the Avett Brothers, were we inclined to do so. Thin, forward, requiring a pretty face to come out of. Daniel Kimbro plays bass and adds a strikingly sympathetic backing vocal.
So, yes, there’s a bit of bravado here, though it doesn’t take long to really get on board. Harley’s playing is delicate, tasteful, and beautifully rich, restrained even when he ventures into rocking-out territory. Kimbro’s bass is gorgeous and full. At times be bows it, which is a nice touch. Between that and the vocals, there are moments when it feels like someone else has stepped into the mix, but they haven’t. It’s just the two guys, and their ability to move between moods and feels is a testament to the quality of the arrangements.
There are some covers here, including a slow take on Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.” It’s like a porch swing on a hot summer’s day. Bees buzzing, all of that. It’s lovely. There’s also a lovely take on Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus.” As such, Harley and Kimbro make some connections that are as welcome as they are surprising. “Automatic Life” is one of those songs that you can get stuck on in the car, which is a great place to listen to this album. It’s a great accompaniment to staring at the horizon, thinking about where you’ve been and where you’re going. And then the song ends and you remember that you haven’t got a clue.