Steve Gilligan and Jon Macey are two veterans of the Boston music scene as well as half of the band Fox Pass, and their debut CD as a duo, Everything Under the Sun, features a dozen fine original compositions that are democratically split -- five from each songwriter with two collaborations. The title track is one of those co-writes and it features an uptempo Everly Brothers harmony à la the Beatles on "Two of Us" from the Let It Be CD, and is one of the poppier episodes before the singers touch upon the other musical worlds they fancy. With longtime producer Barry Marshall intentionally keeping the production sparse, it allows Gilligan's superb use of mandocello, mandolin, Dobro, and harmonica -- as well as Jon Macey's dulcimer playing -- to shine under the perfect guitar strums. When experienced live in concert, it is those exotic instruments coupled with the strong songwriting that help the pair create a magic that their friend and colleague Jonathan Richman sought when he traded the loud underground rock in for the flamenco guitar. But where Richman tells his song-stories from the protagonist's point of view, Macey and Gilligan indulge their passion for the music of Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, the Louvin Brothers, and, deliberate or not, Bob Dylan, in a reverent way that keeps their personalities from overpowering the material. It's a dramatic departure from Fox Pass, where the writing is solely from the pens of Jon Macey and his longtime collaborator, Mike Roy -- a pair who toured with Hall & Oates (they had the same manager), so the major-league polish and approach on a simple composition like "You Will Know Them" is crafted from decades of walking the path.
Religious overtones abound, and former Stompers bassist Gilligan's solo voice on "Harrison Ave. 2am," before the harmonies kick in, gives the album another sort of definition -- this is not a Jon Macey solo project -- and the exciting sounds of the Old World instrumentation that sparkle on-stage translate perfectly to CD. Producer Marshall compared old mixes from the Louvin Brothers to keep the sound authentic, or as this duo (trio with their producer) calls it..."timeless." It works, especially on the disc's longest track, the eight-minute epic "Emma and the Dance," with its lovely instrumental opening. Less is more here, because these minstrels are so proficient at working their stringed instruments and, clearly, are in it for the art, as evidenced by "Watchin' You Go By" and the neo-rockabilly of "Roy Orbison gone folky" that is "All You Gotta Do." Even the packaging reflects the care put into the recordings: the vintage look of the back photo and the color schemes on both the inside panel and the CD face. Picture Aztec Two-Step or Batdorf & Rodney exploring new territory by going back to the future; a lot of ground is covered by keeping it simple and touching upon as many of their influences as possible. Everything Under the Sun is a pleasant and highly effective departure from what the Fox Pass fan base would expect, and for those familiar with Jon Macey and Steve Gilligan's rock & roll efforts, hearing "Gordon's Daughter" would certainly confuse during a blindfold test -- and impress, as this album does from start to finish.