The male-female troubadour combo is as ubiquitous as Sonny and Cher these days, but that’s not to say they are all good. Duck and Goose are some of the good ones. From first listen you’ll immediately hear why their friends and fans put forward the money to fund this Kickstarter project-turned-album. Genuine songwriting, splendid harmonies, and an overall feeling that is tingly and familiar.
I’d like to start in a logical place – the third track – with a song that doesn’t have a full name. It’s caleld “s/y” and I don’t even know why, but it’s good. The strings are at that “next level” and the harmonies give listeners and indication of what else is coming on the album. It’s comfortable and engaging.
The following track “Ing the Blues” is most likely a typo (sing?), but it’s not really a blues song. It’s more like a folksy heartache song with a repetitive refrain. It works. “Mother Mary” is one of the best on the album because the lead vocal by Emily Claire Palmer is like a lullaby. It’s sweet and serene. It comes as a beautiful change of pace in the midst of the rest of the album. When Charles Murphy, the male half of the duo, comes in on vocal harmonies we hear the first indication on the album of the combined cerebral and aesthetic potential of this duo. What I mean to say is that they aren’t just strumming a few chords, singing conventional folk themes about love and drinking. There’s an existential element in the lyrics layered over truly higher-level fingerpicking.
“Atoms of Ashes” shows more of the careful blend of folk melodies and duet harmonies. Even though it’s missing the third wheel, something about this track reminds me of Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s that kind of special connection that they used to have that seems to be here.
“South Carolina” has a perfectly Appalachian flavor to it. Feeling like the upcountry, it’s about love and loss in all the right ways. “Fell in love with a girl… at least that’s what I told my friends…” It’s about complex relationships and what sounds like a bit of genuine reflection on something far more deeply personal. “Go to Sleep” is, predictably, written as a lullaby. It highlights Palmer’s subtler soprano tones. Some of the melodic leaps seem almost jazz rooted, compared to the much more traditional root fingerpicking base to the track. It’s complicated in unexpected ways. “Go to sleep precious one” is perfectly put, nestled in the midst of a beautiful song.
“Pickin’ Up” is one of the best on the album. The banjo opener – and sustained throughout – is really exceptional. The vocals dance and spin around what feels like a familiar refrain. It is an understandably upbeat track for its theme of picking up the pieces after a personal fall. It’s relatable and powerful. The track has train imagery and even the chug-a-lug pacing of the engine. It leads nicely to the last track, “Train Song” which slows a good bit, but preserves the authenticity of Duck and Goose string work. Sweet harmonies characterize yet another gem that feels as real as the old steamer chugging down the line.
All told this is a lovely album from last summer. We were tipped off to this album by reader Keith Bjorklund and we’re very glad he told us about it. This lovely duo ought to continue making this music for many, many years. Fans of bluegrass and roots country will find a lot to like here. Most of our readers that seem to enjoy the folk duos dominating the scene of late will thoroughly enjoy it as well. Duck and Goose are here to stay for lots of reasons. Let’s join in on this swan song.