Chris Brokaw and Geoff Farina - The Angel's Message To Me

Owain Paciuszko 25/03/2010

Rating: 4/5

Opening with the rickety, acoustic country duet and title track makes for a laidback and beguiling start to this two-hander from indie-rock legends Brokaw and Farina. They follow this with Ginseng Blues by The Kentucky Ramblers which matches its travelling-song tempo to optimistic, care-free whistling and Chris Brokaw's scratched, weary vocals. These two men have clearly dived into a niche passion of theirs, filled with nostalgia and a yearning for simplicity, and their shared adoration for these nuggets of golden Americana is audible in the music.

Brokaw founded the slowcore band Codeine in the 80s, following this with Come alongside Thalia Zedek, and providing his drumming skills for The New Year and guitar for the likes of Thurston Moore and Evan Dando to name a couple. Meanwhile Farina spent 12 years as part of the band Karate, leaving when he developed a hearing problem. The two of them met in Boston, played briefly together in the late eighties, but this is the first time the two friends have made an album together.

In The Evening with its richard, sunset guitar sound is a high-water mark of their desire to bring these pre-WWII American standards into a new light. But, what's so charming about their approach is its lack of embellishment and bright, clear honesty of delivery. Brokaw's vocal adds a late-Lou Reed vibe to the traditional song Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor, which almost flickers with the view out of a cargo train's open doorway. It peculiarly embodies so many of the cliches of a more innocent country, and the vagabond vibrancy of wide open spaces.

Meanwhile there's a vein of bittersweet irony in the slow drawl of Farina's delivery in Sitting On Top of the World. There are a few interesting guitar flourishes on the swaggering St. James Infirmary Blues, bringing a quirky, lo-fi gunslinger feel to the choruses, balancing nicely against the smooth eloquence of Farina's voice. The duo then tackle the oft-covered Stagger Lee, playing it lightly and innocently with rattling dulcimer-like sounds in the bridges between verses of this tale of a true life murderer named 'Stagger' Lee Shelton.

Occasionally, notably on the fine but disposable Poor Wayfaring Stranger, there's something too interstitial about some songs, with them drifting by as a by-product of their easy-going pace and performance. But things pick up with That'll Never Happen No More in which Brokaw and Farina share vocal responsibilities, though it's a shame that the first time it happens is one track before the end! The album closes with Trouble in Mind which revolves around the deliciously darkly humourous lyric; 'I want to lay my head on some lonesome railroad line/Let the 2-19 pacify my mind.'

In all this is a beautifully slight release from two incendiary figures of the early-mid-nineties post-rock scene, a clear product of love and passion without pretension.