Great sounding records get a raw deal. Too often in the search for authenticity and grit, we can’t see the wood for the trees. The wood making the music here, in the shape of the fiddle and acoustic guitar that dominate the sound of Two Black Sheep, is there for all to see and hear. But it’s got something else: a certain intrigue. By Alan O’Hare.
I wonder if we all have a key… a musical ache somewhere that responds to a certain timbre and frequency of sound? There’ll be a scientific answer, of course, but let’s not go there just yet. Let’s just feel. Great music can often make us feel happy and sad at the same time. “I’m happy feeling sad,” sang Manic Street Preachers on ‘My Little Empire’. Yep, we all get that.
I got it again this last week or so listening to ‘Coffee & Gin’, the debut album from folk duo Two Black Sheep. Early on in the record is a song called ‘Just For Tonight’. It opens with childlike piano and delicate duet vocals from Ian Davies and Amy Chalmers. You’re hanging on every word being sung, widescreen strings enter the picture and then, all of a sudden, the landscape turns from rural to urban with an electric guitar and solo fiddle line that change the shape of the song and bring it into adult territory. It’s great, but it’s the sound that touches your heart.
‘Coffee & Gin’ is that rarest of beasts: a polished album. Auto-Tune and plug-ins enable artists to mess with the sound of their instruments and create post-truth parts to offer some edge in otherwise bland tunes. Not these two… wood and guts are enough for Two Black Sheep. There’s tougher sounds on offer – ‘Don’t Forget Me’ and ‘Tongue Tied’ are alt-country standouts, the type of tunes that dominate Nashville (and ‘Nashville’!) these days – but it’s the delicate ditties that stay with you. ‘Glasgow Train’ and ‘Angry Boy’ are two more crackers with their acoustic arpeggios, dreamy duet vocals (on the former) and still-water strings.
This is what the duo do best. Sure, the fuller band sound is what’s expected on record, but I hope they can resist the temptation to go full-time with the ensemble. As, when these two musicians share a bit of themselves with each other and us, they get to the heart of the matter.
Get hold of a copy now and put the kettle on… but make sure you ‘liven’ up your coffee before listening.
‘Coffee & Gin’, by Two Black Sheep, is available now
Pic by Martin Fryatt