“…like a love song sung by two lovers savouring the delicious regret of a recently embarked upon murder spree across the dusty highways of three states.” – Dara Higgins on Hidden Highways‘ self titled debut EP.
Never underestimate the power of simplicity. Here just an acoustic guitar, two voices and the occasional tinkle of a pianner is all you need to draw you in. The reverb is all natural and roomy, the playing unadorned, the singing dolorous and world weary. We needn’t be wowed by the technical prowess of their studio craft, or get all goggle-eyed at their equipment list. Suddenly, that makes a welcome change. There’s nowhere to hide, after all, if it’s just your vocal chords lilting above the strum.
Hidden Highways, Carol Anne McGowan and Tim V. Smyth, are naked, stripped back country folk. What they might miss is the twang of a Leone guitar galloping over the hills, pursued by a chorus of mariachi trumpets, but, you know, not really. Featuring two tracks written by the duo, and two covers, this e.p. is a short, soft, tickle, which leaves you wanting a bit of more of this kind of muted epicness. You know, the lonely gas station attendant who sits in the shade and writes the great American novel during the hours between sales, or the drifter who may have a past who wanders into town and just wants to work for his keep. That kind of epic struggle to try and slow the passing of time in order to wallow in the glum beauty of it all.
In Defence of Magpies sounds like a love song sung by two lovers savouring the delicious regret of a recently embarked upon murder spree across the dusty highways of three states. “There’s a brutish grace in my desire,” Carol Anne sings. How lovely a turn of phrase that is. Jackson C. Franks folk-pluck Blues Runs The Game fits the bill nicely. Come Wander with Me, a cover of a song that appeared in a 1964 episode of the Twilight Zone, has a real Nancy Sinatra sparseness to it, a kind of lonely motel room pathos. Burnt Ships, the second of the self penned numbers, finishes the record off, the twang of a guitar slide echoing the receding squawk of a car, passing by, ignoring your outstretched thumb.
Alt country, singer songwritery, whatever you want to call it, really offers us nothing new, but so much is lost in the pursuit of new. Going backwards towards the dusty vista inhabited by Nancy and Lee, Patsy Cline or Townes Van Zandt, or anyone with roguishly tipped ten gallon hat and a melancholic bone to pick can be as rewarding as lauding some band at SXSW who got together that afternoon and don’t even have any songs, or instruments, but have tight pink pants and know someone over at Pitchfork. Music is a simple game, after all. All you need is some songs and some talent. Who knew?