As the owner and proprietor of Homestead's late, lamented Main Street Café, Laurie Jennings (uh, the musician, not the anchor lady) was adept at entertaining her guests with covers of well-worn classics from the Americana songbook. Now, paired with partner and veteran session whiz Dana Keller, she's writing songs that sound like they were culled from the same stockpile.
On the duo's outstanding second effort, the cosmically dubbed As the Universe Unfolds, they take an assertive stance that reflects their true folk finesse. Although a cover read of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" harks back to those heady hootenanny days at the café when any oldie was fair game, it nearly goes unnoticed in the swell of heartfelt love songs and laments surrounding it here. Obviously, neither Jennings nor Keller is old enough to have spent time hopping freight trains with Woody Guthrie or shedding mutual tears in their beers with Hank Williams. Regardless, this sepia-toned set bears a weathered, rootsy sound that evokes images of the heartland and age-old authenticity.
The material boasts a down-home embrace that's as cozy and familiar as an old flannel shirt, and on songs such as "I Went to the Mountain" and "Southeast Corner of My Mind," the wail of emotion sounds both heartfelt and resolute. In fact, the overall mood can veer toward downtrodden sentiment — the desolation and despair of "Sandy," "Your Heart Holds the Truth," and Keller's break-up ballads being among the most obvious examples. But there's some recompense in the affable, steel guitar-embellished "Odele" and "Missed My Plane to Cincinnati" as well as good-natured bluesy jaunts "My Baby Wants to Be a Bell Ringer" and "Gator Shine."
Agreed, a penchant for melancholia is a natural characteristic of the troubadour tradition, and perhaps that's one reason Jennings and Keller purvey such an earthy authenticity. Two albums on, they're already at the top of their game.
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