Guest Review: Siri Undlin on Karrnnel Sawitsky & Daniel Koulack – Fiddle & Banjo: Tunes from the North, Songs from the South

Karrnnel Sawitsky & Daniel Koulack – Fiddle & Banjo: Tunes from the North, Songs from the South

by Siri Undlin

Hailing from the more maple-leafed side of our North American continent, Sawitsky and Koulack bridge the roots-music distance between North and South – honoring their own origins while recognizing the profound influence of the American south in their sonic footprints. If you’re able to move on from the potentially disastrous last-name pronunciation attempts (which I’ll admit took me a minute, but ultimately, does it matter?) you’ll find a well balanced album of lyrical storytelling, instrumental yearnings and a refreshing playfulness around themes of melancholy and nostalgia.

Not unlike a well-loved walking stick in the hand of a trusty backcountry guide, this duo wields their instruments with both prowess and tenderness. They’re able to do justice to classic tunes like “Groundhog” and Sawitsky’s vocals exude warmth and grit, best showcased on “Killing Floor”, a blues tune that plunges deep into the shadows of the human experience and relays a sort of ruggedness you can feel in you kneecaps. These are songs that transcend the boundaries of any one particular space – in doors or out of them, alone or in the midst of a crowd. Regardless of where you are when you listen, Sawitsky and Koulack move through jigs, airs and ballads to lead us down the winding paths of a thick forest, coloring our interior landscapes while still mirroring the rivers, fields and bluffs of the physical world around us.

Other highlights of the album include the finger-lickin’ speed on “Traditional Tune” and “Sally in the Garden”, which paints the picture of a somewhat high-stakes adventure through overgrown rosebushes at dusk. As is the case with the best of the roots tradition, these songs will lilt like clouds in one moment and stomp with stubborn defiance the next. Ultimately, the most impressive part of this album and the reason why many of us return to bonafide folk music again and again, is that it is music with an ability to yoke generations – making the leap between both the child-like and octogenarian parts of the heart with ease while steeping us in melodies and narratives that keep our history alive.

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