When country star Kacey Musgraves got on stage at her Ryman Auditorium shows in September, few ears were focused on the string section. But there, in the middle of her band, Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer play together. That night, they were just part of a larger ensemble. But on their debut, "Weight of the World," Baiman and Sedelmyer are 10 String Symphony - two fiddles and two voices. That's it.
With such limited ingredients, "Weight of the World" risks being a collection of songs that all sound alike. Those who half-listen will probably find it repetitive - a sweet but unchanging sound that continues through 10 tracks. But those who listen closer will hear the variations in tempos and subject material, not just in this album, but in any music genre.
Try to name another band that tells the story of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius' murder trial. "Oscar's Verdict" stands out not only because of its unexpected subject, but also because of its composition. The chords are off just enough to be foreboding, almost eerie.
Then, it launches into songs like the titular "Weight of the World," a Sunday school nursery rhyme that's staccato and lesson-filled. "Black Eyed Suzie" is a campfire toe-tapper, while the opening "Anna Jane" has an intriguing opening reminiscent of The Beatles' "Blue Jay Way" - quiet drama that contrasts a sweet portrait of a backwoods belle.
10 String Symphony's vocal echo alternative duos like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Of Mice and Men and Group Love. Baiman takes the lead most times, but Sedelmyer is a necessary addition to balance it - he does get his own spotlight on "I'm Not Lonesome's" first verse. As for string work, these are two masters, as heard in pieces like "Someone to Be Good For," which combine fiddle techniques.
It takes a nuanced ear to pick out everything that makes "Weight of the World" a strong album, but the effort is repaid by a debut that showcases two excellent musicians who thrive in partnership and simplicity.