Mama’s Broke—Narrow Line

2022, Mama’s Broke/Free Dirt Records

First impression, magnificent! Two women singing harmony as expressively as a skilled fiddler plays two strings together… backed by exactly that kind of fiddle playing by Lisa Maria. Add the equally impressive Amy Lou Keeler on guitar, banjo and fiddlesticks and the air vibrates with harmony and melody. What… there are words too! I’ll confess that it took a second listen to register the lyrics, so captivating is their sound. Mama’s Broke is like nothing you have heard and everything you have heard, breathing in the air of many traditions and singing it out with their own voices. Both women seem most comfortable in the alto range, so perhaps you could you call it a low lonesome sound? The title track has a descending riff that takes a dizzying extra step down, perfectly suited to the lyrics. “We can’t hold it all/ Our hands are just too small/ The best we can do is break up time/ And keep it on a narrow line.” The third track, “Between The Briar & The Rose,” is an absolutely fascinating sound, with banjo and fiddle, sounding at once like chamber music and  like something wafting up from a holler. Sometimes banjo and fiddle play like a single instrument, sometimes they diverge to take turns establishing the rhythm. There is a feeling of grandeur as the song reaches a smoky Appalachian peak. The instrumental “Pick the Raisins from the Paska” has a baroque flavor. The most narrative song “How it Ends,” tells a quintessential country story. “Cause even when it was bad, you were the best I ever had” and “but you wrote the same old story in another woman’s bed,” —all set to a toe-tapping fiddle beat. Many reviews of their music call it dark as if that is a surprise; after all, they are heavily influenced by traditional music. Stark images abound, intense but non-specific. The impressionistic lyrics are slow to give up their secrets, but perfect for pondering as the melodies and instrumental and vocal harmonies wash over you. This is a deeply satisfying album to spin frequently, enjoying the musicianship and synergy of the duo. —Michael Devlin

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