Among the Oak & Ash

Among the Oak & Ash

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It's not surprising that singer/songwriters Josh Joplin and Garrison Starr should have crossed paths on the road, since both have been at about the same level of success and would have tended to play the same venues in the late 1990s and early ‘00s. Among the Oak & Ash, their duo side project, suggests that, on at least a few of those occasions, the might have sung and played together, since they seem familiar and compatible. For this project, they have largely left their writing pads at home in favor of digging up a bunch of traditional folk songs, but they have retained their musical style. The writing credits may read "Traditional," but the arrangements are very much in the folk/country/rock style both performers favor, in which an acoustic guitar or restrained electric (or both) anchors performances to which an electric bass and drums are added, along with other string instruments (banjo, Dobro, dulcimer, lap steel). Sometimes, things are a bit more stripped down -- on the brief take of "Come All You Young & Tender Ladies," Starr's solo vocal is accompanied only by an electric guitar, and Joplin sings "Pretty Saro" a cappella. But much of the time this is contemporary folk-rock, with the singers, often in unison, though sometimes with one or the other in the lead and the other joining in on individual lines and choruses, making the timeless warnings and anecdotes in the lyrics sound like current emotional concerns. Joplin's composition "Joseph Hillström 1879-1915" can be added to the catalog of songs about the martyred folksinger Joe Hill, and the concluding song, "High, Low & Wide," a co-write by Joplin and Starr, suggests what an album of their own originals would be like. From the sound of it, such a follow-up would be worth considering, although this debut shows the performers' roots and thus makes a good beginning to their partnership.

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