(Last October Music, CD)
Here’s a confession: I really wanted to dislike the self-titled debut record from Mad River Valley-based duo Last October. To explain, I need to avail myself of a dirty little music-scribe secret. You see, the fastest way to lose a critic’s interest is to prattle on about how much music means to you. Your music, someone else’s music, music in general … it doesn’t matter. If, as a musician, you need to explain that music is important to you, the odds are high you’re not very good at it. Otherwise, why the hell are you/we here? But I digress.
In preparing to review Last October, I started doing a little background research on the band. That’s when I discovered this eye-roll-inducing nugget in their bio material: “Honing their crafts from opposite sides of the country, Erica Stroem and James Kinne came together through their sheer love and respect for music.” Awww. (As an aside, have any musicians ever come together over a shared hatred for music?)
But then I pressed “play.” And I realized I was wrong.
Kinne and Stroem share more than an affinity for music. As Last October, they seem to share one mind. Or — cheese alert! — one soul. Like so many great male-female Americana duos, past and present — Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, etc. — they complement one another so much that it’s hard to envision one without the other.
That’s not to say Last October are on par with those aforementioned greats. They aren’t — yet. But their debut is a stirring exposition of the power of intimate artistic collaboration, and is an undeniably enjoyable listen.
Kinne is a veteran local tunesmith and a member of “folkgospel grassicana” outfit Phineas Gage. His experience and savvy lends the project ballast. His sweet, reedy croon is a perfectly measured foil to Stroem’s more emotionally charged delivery, especially on album opener “Down This Road.” Here, the duo weaves vocal lines together in beautifully soothing, dovetailing fashion.
At moments — “All You Do,” for example — Last October do tread awfully close to feel-good, folk-pop schmaltz. Yet, rescued by an irresistible homespun charm, they never fully tumble. Frequently throughout the record, and particularly at that song’s winding chorus, there’s a naked vulnerability in the pair’s performance that is simply impervious to cynicism. So, I apologize, Last October. I do believe you melted my heart.
Last October play Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury this Friday, Novermber 11.