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Among the Oak & Ash

Among the Oak and Ash – 2009 (Verve Forecast)

Reviewed by Jacquilynne Schlesier

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CDs by Among the Oak & Ash

Josh Joplin and Garrison Starr are both known as singer-songwriters, so the decision to create an album of traditional folk songs may seem surprising. Less surprising is the choice of songs - they run the folk gamut from true stories to laments for love lost, but stick mainly to well known traditional tunes like Hiram Hubbard, Peggy-O and All The Pretty Little Horses.

Their take on these songs shies away from reverent recreation of the traditional arrangements, but they aren't rocked up, either. The arrangements are pleasantly spare - the style is clearly, but not excessively, contemporary.

That overall pleasantness can mask the depth of these songs. Many tracks are gritty songs about tough times and hard lives, but in the low-key arrangements and vocals, some of that grittiness is lost. The best tracks are the ones thrown almost entirely to the vocalists - Starr's soft, beautiful take on The Water is Wide and her hard-edged excerpt from Come All You Young & Tender Ladies, along with Joplin's a cappella Pretty Saro. The most unusual inclusion is certainly a cover of The Smiths' Bigmouth Strikes Again; it is the fastest, loudest and last track, yet somehow it manages to fit.