On 12 X 2 (+/-1) – pronounced “Twelve by Two (plus or minus one)” – Nick Hornbuckle takes up a dozen old-time tunes and makes a lovely bit of magic. The title refers to the number of the tunes, each played as a duet, more or less. Hornbuckle is joined by five kindred spirits who come at the music with a deep appreciation, love, and a remarkably gentle touch.
The result is simply gorgeous, and the reason is because of the approach. Anyone who has played an instrument knows that there is a satisfaction that comes simply from the sounds an instrument can make. Low tones on a violin, or a long drones. The tone of the mid-range of a banjo. A crisp mandolin chop. A single chord played on a perfectly tuned piano. These instruments remain with us today, in part, because of the tones that they can make, and in this recording it’s as if Hornbuckle wants principally to celebrate those tones. The accompaniment throughout is as captivating as the lead, and at times more so. The movement from unison to a chord accompaniment on “Ninety Degrees” is kind of mesmerizing. The mandolin strums and scrubs on “Yell in the Shoats” tickle the spine.
As you move through the album, it feels a bit like Hornbuckle is there standing over your shoulder saying, “now check out how great a piano and a banjo sound together” or “listen to how the cello supports all the space between that banjo melody.” From tune to tune he’s altering tempo, style of accompaniment, register, and mixing two flavors together, seemingly for nothing greater than to demonstrate something that we may not have noticed before. Namely, how great these instruments sound. And they really do. It’s like taking a bath in sound. The album won’t jump up and bite you, but give if you give it a bit of attention you’ll see that there’s a lot to love here.