“Harmony” in music is really a pretty simple concept. Sing the notes, practice, and (hopefully) make beautiful music together. “Chemistry,” on the other hand, eludes easy definition, which is maybe part of the reason it’s so difficult to attain. Chris and Adam Carroll have that chemistry. Not because they done got hitched (although, they did, in 2013), but because they’ve naturally developed a musical gift that’s brought them to record their first album as a duo, Good Farmer.
That chemistry jumps through the headphones on the very first track, “Hi-Fi Love”, and it’s because of their different styles that the song, and the entire record, succeeds so well. Originally written with Scott Nolan, the singers made a few changes so they could perform it as a duo, and they make it both funny and endearing, like the cool couple you wish you knew. Along the way, they drop gems like, “You’ve been drinkin’/Like a bricklayer’s daughter”, “Seems like she left me/In a wolf and sheep kinda world”, and “Freebird rockin’/White trash, h-fi love.” Their vastly different vocal styles (Adam croons easily in a drawl that’s somewhere between Southern and Texan, while Chris’s flawless voice might remind you of Alison Krauss) helps those great lines land just right.
While “Hi-Fi Love” is more of a full-band effort, the majority of the tunes are stripped down and ready for Chris and Adam to perform as a duo, with lead vocals changing from song to song. The title track, co-written by the couple, features Chris on the lead and pays tribute to the resolute women in her life, be they farmers, factory workers or hard-working moms, and the different dreams they might have. Adam answers that with “Tough As Nails”, an ode to the spirit, adaptability and allure of the woman sitting next to him: “I’ll always come and see her/No matter what shape I’m in/She can always turn my head no matter how she’s feelin’,” There’s nothing gushingly sentimental about these songs – just simple, deep appreciation for the good folks in their lives.
The duo ventures into the larger world with a pair of tunes. Chris’s “Angel In God’s Country” (written with Michael O’Connor) tells of a woman who’s lived a less-than-exemplary life, but does find a kind of happiness – “She’d never known/A love so strong/She sings so sweet and low/To that little one” – and shares her story with those who might need to hear it. Adam’s “Ocean of Peace” actually sprang from a conversation Chris had with a veteran: “You might meet someone derelict and alone/You don’t know where they’ve been/You don’t know what they’ve known.” The song urges listening, empathy and understanding.
Fittingly for a duo who are also a couple, their best songs are their most intimate. Adam’s “The Old Wilted Rose” gives us two past-their-prime musicians (one has definitely seen more success than the other) who keep bouncing back into each other’s lives, as much as they might try to avoid it: “If shame was gold records they would cover his wall/And if lonely was a mansion she’d have the biggest of all.” And “Take Me Away” brings the album back to the full-band sound, with Chris’s mandolin playing off Dennis Ludiker’s fiddle. Chris gives new life to a song written by Adam with John Evans (which was recorded by Hayes Carll), a tale of someone living a life perhaps not well-lived – “I’ve been a two-time loser/With my guitar and my gun” – and ready to move on. Here’s hoping that, whichever way Chris and Adam Carroll move musically, they continue to do so together, with their own brand of chemistry.
Good Farmer was produced by Lloyd Maines and recorded, mixed and mastered by Pat Minske. Musicians include Chris (mandolin and guitar), Adam (rhythm and lead guitar), Maines (ukulele, baritone mandolin, guitars, pedal steel, bass and percussion), and Dennis Ludiker on fiddle.
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