Brechyn Chace and Larissa Chace Smith, the roots/Americana sister duo at the heart of the Pennsylvania-based The Hello Strangers, expertly blend memorable songwriting and terrific sibling harmonies on their self-titled album. The Chace sisters share songwriting credits on the 11 original compositions on this 13-song collection bouncing between compelling narratives and personal observations.
There is a prevailing feeling of self-deprecation on two of the most notable tracks. Both the album-leading "Runaway," a dusty and elegant opening statement, and the catchy honky tonk gem "Ruined" find the songs' subjects looking inward.
On the latter, the introspection is used to examine the causes of an ongoing relationship that is always destined to fail, while on "Runaway," the narrator uses introspection as a tool to proactively justify why a potential relationship won't work. This is done with simple but compelling lyrics like:
"I'm a loner/
It can feel like a crowd when there's no one else around/
But if the mood is right, I'll be downtown tonight, I'm a roamer/
With the beat of a drum, I chase the setting sun
I'm a writer, I'm a lover, I procrastinate like no other
These hats I wear could fill a motel room
And no matter what I do, it'll never make sense to you, it's true
I'll never make sense to you"
The album is also notable for narrative songs featuring strong female characters. "Poor Dear" is a first-person account of a mistreated woman finally summoning the strength and courage to leave her lover, and "Oh He'll Drown" is a song in the classic murder ballad style that finds another abused woman handing out some hot-iron justice to her tormentor.
The sisters also impress on another murder ballad, "Conococheague." Named after the Conococheague Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River that meanders through the rural Northern Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania countryside, this song has all the makings of a classic thanks to a dark and brooding arrangement, a thumping refrain, well-placed lead guitar and banjo accents that further set the mood and haunting dual-lead vocals that showcase the evocative power majesty of the sister's vocal interplay.
The surprising cover of "Que Sera, Sera," a song popularized by Doris Day in 1956 and included in a languid and understated rendition, is a tribute to their grandfather, Roland Chace, who sang with Day back in the 1940s.