The past couple of years have been good to Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman; their band Front Country took home the Band Contest trophy at both the Telluride and RockyGrass festivals. In 2012, Walker released "Gold Rush Goddess" to wide praise. In late 2013, the duo moved back to the Bay Area in California. With this new album, which bluegrass ace Laurie Lewis produced, the duo has indeed come home musically and personally.
Almost every song features spare arrangements, with Walker and Groopman trading lead and harmony vocals around and above Walker's thrumming guitar and Groopman's sparkling, often scampering, mandolin. Mike Witcher lends his Dobro stylings to Betelgeuse, an affecting ballad about the distance we feel from the world around us but also the intimacy that twines us to that very same cosmos told through the story of the star of the title when it shines its brightest, and O Heartbreaker, a minor-key ironic dirge that the duo describes as an "anti-drama anthem for self-love."
Lewis lends her powerful harmonies to Black Grace, which won the 2013 Chris Austin Songwriting in the Gospel/Inspiration category, and which proclaims that you need look no further than this earth for glory, for "Heaven is right here if you're doin' it right." Lewis provides harmony on the a cappella Yellow Haired Girl, with a rhythm reminiscent of Cups (When I'm Gone), a tale that condemns the harsh and brutal exploitation of women. The title track scoots off with Groopman's skittering mandolin and the duo's voices join in joyous celebration of the moment of reunion at that place where so much love lives: home.
With smart, canny lyrics, soaring vocals and intimately woven instrumental patterns, Walker and Groopman have crafted an object of beauty and leave us wishing and hoping for their next project.