There's an austere, backward-gazing warmth to the eponymous debut by East Coast roots folk duo Bishop Reilly. A collaboration between producer/instrumentalist Jeff Bishop and singer/songwriter Robert Reilly, their wistfulness is born out of a friendship that began in the '90s when both were trolling the East Coast rock club scene searching for success with their respective bands. Working many of the same clubs on the circuit, they would bump into each other and often wind up playing on the same bill, forging a friendship and building mutual admiration along the way. When Reilly began making solo records in the late '90s, he enlisted Bishop to play guitar on several of them, though it would be over a decade before they officially formed the more collaborative Bishop Reilly project. As far as the songs go, this is still largely Reilly's gig, and his tough and tender croon and sentimental lyrics are at the heart of their music. Bishop's instrumental chops are considerable (especially as a lead guitarist), but it's his work as an arranger and producer here that allows Reilly's songs to shine and occasionally rise above their station. There are plenty of bands dishing out heartfelt, world-weary Americana, and with songs like "Best Kept Secret" and "Venus Is Drowning," Bishop Reilly can be added to that list. Earthy rockers with plenty of bluesy/twangy elements, those songs are sturdy and well-built without necessarily breaking the mold. The duo is at its best, however, on the gentler, more orchestrated tracks like the uplifting "Remember the Way" and "Look at Me Look at You," which both benefit from some very nice string arrangements from Chris Carmichael (Taylor Swift, Lee Ann Womack, Alison Krauss). Similar to New York chamber folk group Hem, they manage to create little scenes that are both gently rustic and smartly classical. It's on songs like these where Bishop Reilly as a working duo seem most complementary. Another highlight is the opener, "A Million Years Ago," which introduces their vision with a slickly produced, pop-leaning rock track that incorporates many of the band's best assets, namely Reilly's way with a strong, familiar melody and Bishop's knack for framing it in the right way. It's a solid first effort from a couple of well-matched veterans.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger