While musical power groups throughout the last century have been manyfold, there is something unique and special about two separate solo musicians joining strings to create an album borne from love and heartbreak and their mutual vicissitudes. It’s something anyone can relate to and it’s especially interesting when the songs are written by accomplished musicians.
Within the past few years there have been several notable pairings, such as Dallas Green of City and Colour and P!nk, Andrew Bird and Fiona Apple (for a song), and just as recent Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop with their latest release Love Letter for Fire, which already has received critical acclaim.
Beam, of course, is most known for his releases under the moniker Iron and Wine, while Hoop is a relatively new name in the game despite playing music professionally for years. What more, both musicians are intrinsically distinct from one another in sound, timbre, and overall musicianship. Beam whispers, often playing delicately upon the strings. Hoop is spunky, she sounds like she was never born like everyone else, but instead spawned from the forest and decided to walk out one day whilst singing.
Beam comes from a traditional folk musical formula while Hoop may be characterized as experimental folk, which comes out rather often on Love Letter for Fire. Hoop is often loud and willing to venture away from the run of the mill, which plays off Beam’s tethered somber and quiet vocals. It’s a game of vocal gymnastics with Hoop as the gymnast and Beam as the gymnast’s, well, beam.
“We Two are a Moon” showcases the pair often singing octaves from one another, rarely venturing away from one another illustrating the togetherness of the song subject and title.. Both voices are quite distinct from one another in style and timbre, but the results together are soothing and moving on every occasion, especially on “Soft Place to Land,” a track centered on isolation in love. The harmonies are phenomenal on this track and embody the idea that two people might have the right idea but are never quite on the same page.
While some tracks like aforementioned “Soft Place to Land” illustrate somber moments, the album as a whole is surprisingly more emotionally upbeat than one might expect from the title. Other tracks like closer, “Sailor to Siren,” highlight the more delighted pieces on the record. Despite the occasional lonely lyric throughout the album, the vocal melodies often tell different stories.
But what sets this album apart from the varied love duo albums is the sheer musicianship on Love Letter for Fire. Yes, the vocal relationship is well-matched, but the strings and percussion are what lay a foundation for everything to happen around it. The timbre of some of the strings are used for a variety of reasons culminating into excellent musical arrangement after another. Some pieces seem to fit perfectly with some of the plucking melodies. Occasionally, the strings sound like remnants from a Sarah Jarosz record no one has heard yet.
Love is an oenomel – composed from a powerful and visceral sweetness and tenderness for another that transcends the self and replaces it with the desire to care for another. It’s powerful, it’s honest, it’s what everyone wants deep down inside that can’t be filled in any other way. And yet, the hole doesn’t ever appear to be full despite meeting someone that may seem to be another loose puzzle piece. We all feel that longing for someone, maybe someone we don’t even know. That’s why these albums are constantly made. No matter what our personal circumstances may be, there is always room for more and we relish in loneliness together.
This is the power of music.