Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms

Innnocent Road – 2016 (Self-released)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms

Imagine that country music didn't take a heavy countrypolitan swerve in the '60s. Pedal steel guitar remains prominent, but things didn't go schmaltzy. Strings are for parcels and syrup is for pancakes, not country songs. Emotion remains paramount, love is challenged and lost, frustrations are voiced.

Had things gone just a little differently decades ago and country remained more Louisiana Hayride and less Urban Cowboy, there is a fine chance that country music today may more frequently sound like that produced by Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms.

Veterans of Washington State's country music environs, Klauder (Foghorn Stringband) and Willms (also FHSB) joined forces a few years ago, and "Innocent Road" is their second album as a duo.

"Innocent Road" is comprised of a half-dozen Kluader songs, a few obscure covers, and a healthy dollop of familiar classics from the likes of Buck Owens and George Jones. The kicker is a track from Paul Burch's stunning "Fool For Love" album, "C'est le Moment (If You're Gonna Love Me)" artfully sung by Willms.

Klauder and Willms sing together very well, and as much as enjoyable as Prine/DeMent and Robison/Willis are, one might just prefer what this duo accomplishes. There is no artifice within these recordings, no hint of sly aside. They sound as if they are in the corner of a county hall, singing their hearts out for folk who have worked too damn hard all week and need a few hours to forget enough to do it all again come Monday morning.

Songs like "I'd Jump the Mississippi," "Coming on Strong" and "There Goes My Love" may be most familiar, and these performances are nothing short of splendid. The jewels of "Innocent Road" are Klauder's songs, whether the faithful title track or the mournful and slightly Roger Milleresque "New Shoes." "Just A Little" is a weepy duet shuffle of missed opportunities.

Outside the Burch song, the album's strongest five minutes might be the double shot of "Been On the Rocks" and "Last Time I Saw Her" with its great guitar work, some sweet bass and fiddle, combined with engaging lyrics, close harmony, and a feeling of yearnsome one doesn't usually find outside an Alison Krauss recording. Beautiful.

This is the kind of country music for which we plainly pine.