The second of two new full length albums from Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee, known together as The Lowest Pair, isn’t an extravagant affair. The eleven track release Uncertain as It Is Uneven is firmly rooted in the folk and bluegrass music that has carried the duo from completely obscurity to being held up as paragons of excellence in the genre. The duo deserves all the good press they’ve received. Few vocal duets can boast the idiosyncratic feel and deceptive range Winter and Lee are able to inhabit and their harmonies often take excellent songs even higher still. Their lyrics draw from the deep traditional and tropes of the form, but there’s never any sense of slavish imitation when you listen to the songs on Uncertain as It Is Uneven.
The opener “The Company I Keep” is outright folk music without any added adornments. Winter’s voice isn’t quite as nervy here as it often is on Uncertain as It Is Uneven’s companion album, Fern Girl and Ice Man, but it retains enough of its unique edge to give the song’s sentiments a different spin. The plaintive acoustic guitar and light bluegrass influences never overreach and ably take on the song’s melody line. Palmer T. Lee assumes the bulk of singing duties on the memorable “Keweenaw Flower” and it plays like a folk song ripped straight from 19th and early 20th century tradition filtered through modern perceptions. Winter joins for some crucial harmonies throughout, but her presence remains tastefully restrained and ceding the spotlight to Lee gives the song a distinctly different flavor, as always. “Lonesome Sunrise” is certainly a title listeners might expect to hear on a folk/bluegrass themed release and this song doesn’t disappoint. Lee, once again, takes over the bulk of the song’s lead vocals and his voice does a fantastic job of invoking the loneliness of the title. Winter joins in during the song’s second half and her wrenching, woe-stricken vocal is another highlight.
“37 Tears” is much more of a traditional bluegrass number, but it’s interspersed with a number of overt bluesy touches like the harmonica laced through the arrangement. Winter and Lee duet with great fluency and their opposing styles of phrasing help draw the listener deeper into the song. The intermingling of banjo with guitar reaches another musical peak with the thoughtful, mid-tempo amble of “The Sky is Green”. Winter’s voice is, once again, the dominant vocal instrument, but she’s ably supported by Lee’s judicious harmonies. “Dreaming of Babylon” moves through a variety of musical moods, but the dominant atmosphere is muted and deliberate. The song’s melody develops patiently and features a number of subtle tempo shifts. It’s one of the album’s best songs musically and affords Lee a chance to show off some of his ample banjo chops.
The album’s final song, “By Then Where Will That Be”, is another comparatively extended piece with a recurring melodic hook that gives the song an understated note of foreboding. It’s certainly another hard luck story, in some respects, from The Lowest Pair, but the despair is tempered with the unshakable sense that other days await the narrator. It concludes Uncertain as It Is Uneven on an elegiac note without ever losing the sharp tongue and gritty authenticity that’s marked many of the songs. The second of the duo’s recent double blast of full length albums has a quieter air than Fern Girl and Ice Man, but it’s every bit as rewarding.
9 out of 10 stars.