[Six Shooter Records (2011/2012)]
The Canadian duo Whitehorse (Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland) has been well decorated in its homeland, and their self-titled record from last fall is getting released in the U.S. this winter. This is good news for those of us who like boy-girl harmony duos that are steeped in tradition but still like to rock out on occasion.
“Broken” is the aesthetic center of the record. It hits (as promised) a dead-on Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris vibe, but the nasal guitar and mid-fi recording gives the background a far more modern sound. Their cover — as a duet — of The Boss’s “I’m on Fire” is a bright take on a song that’s usually covered as a haunting mess of reverb and delay over a guy trying to be as creepy as possible. They managed to bring to the fore the original’s hidden classic country Cash-y vibe:
On “Passenger 24” and “Killing Time Is Murder,” the band cranks up the volume and it’s clear that they also draw inspiration from modern heavier duos like the White Stripes without losing the pervasive Americana influence:
The disc is bookended by two experimental, textural tracks called “Eulogy for Whiskers,” and though it’s only two and a half minutes total, the rest of the album is so tight that starting with a non-song that bears no resemblance to their other work comes off as some sort of plea for artistic credibility. The shorter “Eulogy” at the end of the disc is less intrusive and winds down the album from the mellow song that precedes it (“Night Owls”).
This is a small hiccup that can be cured with the skip button on a CD player, though. Overall, Whitehorse is a strong release with excellent harmonies and solid playing; short and sweet and over far too soon.
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)