Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman
We Made it Home
5 stars (out of 5)
I’m glad to have encountered this duo for the first time, having been previously, and inexcusably, unaware of not only their award-winning progressive bluegrass band Front Country, but Walker’s debut solo project Gold Rush Goddess (2012).
We Made it Home—so named as the result of the duo’s unwinding at home after months of touring—is aptly intimate, but also open and wide-ranging, like the best conversations. Producer Laurie Lewis gets a warm sound from Walker and Groopman, who trade off on vocals, guitar, and banjo (with some mandolin from Groopman, and, on two cuts, Mike Witcher’s resophonic guitar).
What stood out for me on first listen were “Betelgeuse” and “Black Grace,” both Walker compositions and the type of modern singer-songwriter folk songs that normally send me running. I’d have thought it improbable for someone to write and sing just one song using astronomy as a metaphor for human emotion that I could stand, but here Walker gives me two in a row that might as well be perfect.
In contrast, “O Heartbreaker” is as visceral as it gets, and the best example here of Walker’s rich and sincere voice.
The title track recalls the arrangement of a Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott duet, and Groopman’s vocal delivery both on harmony and lead vocals (“Retinue,” “Sweet Sunny South,” and “Come On Mule”) recalls Scott’s gift for both soulfulness and storytelling, albeit in a more laid-back manner.
Every track here is a nice discovery, especially “Billy the Champ,” which is the most delightfully strange song I’ve heard in a long while. Telling you about it would take the edge off, so just take my advice and have a listen.
All of that, plus a languorous stroll through Peter Rowan’s “Mississippi Moon” and a fantastic cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” make this one my favorite surprise of the year.