This isn’t a perfect album, and one of the problems with it is that it’s too short. We’re used to albums being a certain length, and while shorter collections are fine, they’re not optimal. There’s not enough time or breadth to really settle in, assuming that you still listen to recordings as albums rather than like a bowl of mixed nuts, picking this but not that, which digital delivery seems to encourage.
So much of this duo, made up of Tanya Bradley (banjo) and Danielle Vita (fiddle), seems improbable: old-time music played by two young women, one from the US the other from Australia, who met in Hong Kong. It can be hard to find a good musical partner, even in places where there are just more fiddles and banjos in the room.
The album was recorded in Australia, though I hesitate to say that, given that the novelty will invariably become part of the story. It needn’t, as the playing can hold up anywhere, as demonstrated on the instrumental “Chicken in the Kitchen/Harper and Louis.”
The first track, “The House is Falling Down,” is a stand out, to be sure. It’s just a great piece of writing, one of those songs that can really catch you up. The house is falling down, the clothes don’t fit, it’s raining, the garden is wilting. The family is being disrupted, very publicly. But there’s a promise of safety. Through it all there’s maybe a ray hope, though in a real way, not a fairy tale way.
All the songs here are equally adept at what they set out to do, which is the experience of being imperfect people in an imperfect world. It’s not about fairy tales, but getting on when everything seems to be against us, and every road is uphill.
Again, it’s not a perfect recording, and if you wanted to pick certain things apart, you could. But perfect, of course, isn’t a reasonable goal. Is a conversation ever perfect? This collection is like that. Just worth it for what it is. I just wish there was more of it.
For Penguin Eggs, Summer/Autumn Double Issue 2020