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Springtime – 1998 (Thrill Jockey)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Freakwater

Though Freakwater's initial efforts revealed an admirable affection for both low-fi country and less than admirable harmonies, their previous release "Old Paint" showed that leaders Cathy Irwin and Janet Bean were into old time country for the long haul, reaping the work of extensive playing together and most importantly, the whetting of lyrical edges.

Now, their latest record feels like their most accomplished - and best. The songwriting is full of classic resonance, especially "Picture in My Mind" and the enigmatic "Binding Twine": "Would you bind my memories in twine? Would you drive with me over the state line? Would you be willing to do the time?"

Sometimes Irwin and Bean just sing over each other, but they can sing together so well, that it's clear the off-kilter harmony is intentional, though it still smacks of the musical equivalent of an ungrammatical sentence. Their nasal twang does work marvelously on the bluegrass-gospelly "Washed in the Blood" and "Lorraine."

And the playing throughout, full of banjo, mandolin and fiddle from MaxJohnston, and some steel guitar, exquisitely accompanies this music of strange, simple beauty.