PHARIS & JASON ROMERO – LONG GONE OUT WEST BLUES
2013 – Lula Records
Pharis and Jason live what is from the outside an idyllic lifestyle in the backwoods of British Columbia where they write and play music by night and manufacture top quality banjo’s by day, all carried out in the vicinity of their log cabin. It’s a wild stab in the dark but my guess is that life is pretty idyllic from the inside as well!
This is their‘notoriously difficult second album,’ the sequel to their highly rated debut, 2011s ‘A Passing Glimpse’
and at least matches the excellence of that tremendous recording. If ever an abum justified the do it yourself ethic it is this one, perfectly catching the ‘old timey’ front porch atmosphere thanks to the casual ease of two vocalists who know their beautifully balanced harmonies blend so well. There is a hugely appealing, if slight, discordant edge to the harmonies that lifts it high above most other artists with generic similarities and ensures there is none of
the sanitised smoothness so beloved of the mainstream. This is a gorgeous album of acoustic music that has a genuinely old timey feel, seamlessly blending traditional and old songs with the Romero’s own originals in a sparse
beautifully played and sung setting. Pharis’s vocals at times have a quality not dissimilar to artists such as Joan Baez, Gillian Welch or even an echo of Joni Mitchell, all women who imbue their vocals with as much character as beauty, but these are only vague comparisons intended to illustrate the quality of Pharis’s voice that is as unique as the former talented ladies! She does takes more of the lead vocals than Jason, but his own vocals are excellent and probably the envy of many singer songwriters. In the case of the always sparse instrumentation, Pharis plays acoustic guitar whilst Jason plays a resophonic guitar and banjo, adding a lovely dash of colour and variety to the songs.
Of the songs, Pharis wrote five, plus another that was a co-write with Jason, who also wrote the beautiful banjo driven instrumental Lost Lula, whilst the remainder, including the instrumental Sally Goodin, are a mix of traditional and songs written decades ago by others. The co-write Long Gone Out West Blues is also the albums title track, a beautiful acoustic harmony duet on which Pharis sounds a little like Gillian Welch on a story that is reminiscent of so many old timey songs without actually sounding like any of them in particular! It’s an incredibly evocative tale with a rural setting, telling the story of a man who sets out to make a fresh start after being left by a lover. The assumption is that his wife got tired of the harshness of their lives so left, but now the man decides to search for a better life with these lines:
I’ll ride til my horse can ride no more,
Then I’ll trade my ride for an acre square.
A powerfully evocative tale rooted, presumably, in the days before cars, an impression that is created by many of these songs irrespective of who wrote them or when they were written. An obvious exception is Ted Daffan’s now classic, (or it should be) Truck Drivers Blues. The pair perform a tremendous version of this old song, again a harmony duet, on a tale that was probably the first to create the myth of the truck driver, still a strong thread that runs through country music today. The traditional Wild Bill Jones is a lovely banjo driven song with Jason on lead vocal and Pharis supplying harmonies on a classic‘Country & Western’ story that tells of a character who kills
the man his girlfriend was with and himself is set to pay the ultimate price. Come On Home is another lovely harmony duet with acoustic guitar on a song that has a powerful old timey atmosphere not only in the sound but also in the writing and without actually being specific, tells of lifes difficulties for the poor. It is a song that could
easily be imagined to have been written in 1930 but is actually a Pharis original. The final track on the album is a tremendous version of Walter Scott’s gospel song Across The Bridge here played as an acoustic guitar led duet, an evocative end to a tremendous album by a hugely talented duo.