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Review: Pharis & Jason Romero, A Passing Glimpse

Pharis & Jason Romero
A Passing Glimpse
[Lula (2011)]

The bar is pretty high for mountain music-flavored duos these days, with Milk Carton Kids putting out a pair of viral free downloads and Gillian Welch, well, existing. For A Passing Glimpse, Pharis & Jason Romero wrote some exceptional songs while holed up in their British Columbia cabin, and accompany their intimate harmonies with simple but solid guitar and banjo. There are no flashy breakdowns and few instrumental sections despite Jason’s well-known prowess on his instrument; the lyrics and melodies are well-served by this restraint. The transitions between sourced material and originals is seamless, and the hand-made feel of the entire record—Jason is a well-known banjothier and played instruments made in his shop—lends that all-important note of authenticity, the mark of any good old-timey record.

The title track initially has the pair at their most Welch-Rawlings-ish, with the discordant guitar intro calling to mind many of David Rawlings’s guitar licks. But the call and response vocals, bouncy guitar solo, and Pharis’s passionate delivery quickly twist this song into something original. Another highlight is the gentle take on “Wait Till the Clouds Roll By” (an old Woods and Fulmer broadside dating to 1881), where Pharis’s voice takes on the more polished character of Joan Baez. These highlights happen to be two of the guitar-only tracks, and the open character of Pharis’s voice that seems to marry better with the guitar than the banjo. (Jason’s more nasal, and more traditional, delivery fits best with the banjo in the mix, and he does sing lead a couple times.) In between these two tracks, there are any number of standard-quality old-timey songs. An unassuming take on the instrumental “Cumberland Gap” rounds out a record that is further proof that the epicenter of Appalachian mountain music may very well have moved to the Pacific rim.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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