Thinking of You
No one burns with that old-time religion quite like Freakwater's singer-songwriter duo Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean. Their earnest rusticity would merit a Smithsonian Folkways compilation if they were not, in fact, Chicago residents. Over the course of 16 years and several albums, these devotees of Carter Family authenticity have perfected a unique craft: They've created an original body of work, adding flesh to the bones of hillbilly traditions. The pair's latest album (its first in six years) displays such formal commitment that only the occasional buzz of electric guitar (or the passing contemporary vocal flourish) reminds you that it was recorded in 2005.
That's terrific when the singers are cutting a jig, as they do on "Upside Down," with assistance from their pals in Califone. And it's pretty damn impressive when their voices twine and shadow each other on the farmhouse parable "Cricket Versus Ant," accented by pump organ and violin. "Cathy Ann," a ballad written for the lost daughter of Woody Guthrie (who died in a Coney Island house fire), is an effortless Appalachian death lament, with its vision of a child gamboling in the sand as the singers alternate lines. Freakwater's purism is so admirably focused that at times it can seem a tad monotonous and fragile—a delicate, prayerful thing a little too rare for this rough-and-tumble world. "Double Clutch" unites the best of worlds, however, yoking sublime country realism to the Nashville skyline evoked by James Elkington's (the Zincs) guitar. His hauntingly Dylanesque progressions prove an ideal foil for the interior grace of those voices.—Steve Dollar