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Pharis and Jason Romero

A Wanderer I'll Stay – 2015 (Lula)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Pharis and Jason Romero

Emerging from the isolated environs of Horsefly British Columbia, Pharis and Jason Romero know all too well the draw of the backwoods and a lonely expanse of rural environs. In fact, they couldn't have been more perfectly cast for their role as old school purists. Pharis' family has lived in Horsefly for five generations, and when the couple isn't on the stage performing, they spend their time working in a family business building banjos. They're also a favorite of Garrison Keilor, whose Prairie Home Companion epitomizes the essence of old time, heartland homilies.

Still, the best reflection of their take on tradition resides in the music itself, a series of folk-fueled rambles that find a seamless mesh of rustic originals, banjo-driven instrumentals and familiar standards of age-old origin. Indeed, that's never been more evident that on "A Wanderer I'll Stay," the latest album by this humble yet assertive Canadian couple.

The acoustic arrangements - most garnished with banjo, fiddle or pedal steel - are rich and emphatic, but it's the lovely high lonesome harmonies that clinch the connection. While the subdued themes of the traditional tunes ("The Dying Soldier," "Goodbye Old Paint" et. al.) hint at a generally mournful pastiche, the pair makes pains to maintain that sobering stance throughout. It takes little more than glance at the song titles to affirm that impression ("A Wanderer I'll Stay," "New Lonesome Blues," "Lonesome & I'm Going Back Home"), but it's the lyrics that accompany these offerings that make the message clear. "It's a wicked world when you're all alone, they moan on "Ballad of Old Bill." And then there's this: "There's no companion like the misery of an unfulfilled desire" from the forlorn ballad "There's No Companion." It's pretty harrowing stuff.

Pharis and Jason Romero are clearly of another era, purists who remain true to the music and the early influences that guide them forward even as they plow their way forward.