There are many traditional songs that are beloved in bluegrass circles; songs that can be heard at every jam session from Telluride to Galax. For their debut album, new duo Lambert & Walz has picked out seven favorites from the public domain, added in two originals written in the same vein, and recorded them almost exclusively as guitar duets. The result is a warm, unadorned album that makes listeners feel as if they’ve just so happened to drop in on a living room picking session.
The duo consists of Eric Lambert (formerly of the Henhouse Prowlers) and Chris Walz (who spent time with the Special Consensus), both fine guitarists and vocalists. The two trade off lead and rhythm responsibilities, as well as lead and harmony vocals, adding to what the album’s liner notes calls “spontaneous musical conversations.” Things get started with a lonesome version of East Virginia Blues. It’s a very enjoyable version of the song, more wistful than mournful. Careless Love is slowed down a bit when compared to some other bluegrass performances of the song, and sung with a plainspoken, bluesy delivery. The song clocks in at over six minutes, which made me expect some extended guitar solos within or at the end, but instead, the duo has just chosen to give the song a slow and easy arrangement.
A song I’ve always liked is Pallet on the Floor, and Richard Bennett does an excellent, traditional-leaning bluegrass version. However, the song has roots in the blues, and Lambert & Walz’s version (titled Make Me a Pallet) has a lot more in common – in lyrics and both vocal and musical arrangement – with, say, Mississippi John Hurt than it does with Bennett. Lambert switches over to slide guitar for this track, adding to the bluesy vibe. On the album, it’s preceded by another traditional blues song that has been adapted to a variety of genres, Deep Elem Blues. Guitarists will likely appreciate the spot-on picking here.
Lambert and Walz each contributed one original to the project. Though it’s performed here with just guitar accompaniment, Lambert’s I’ll Never Love Another could make a great full-band number for a traditional bluegrass group. It’s a fun love song, told from the perspective of a young man who earns the love of a beautiful girl he meets in the mountains of Tennessee. Walz proves he does melancholy well with The Whistle’s Lonesome Sound, an ode to the passage of time, the changes it brings, and one last ride on a train. Both originals fit in well with the traditional songs that fill the rest of the album, and will likely be highlights to many listeners.
Fans of bluegrass guitar and traditional-leaning bluegrass in general should enjoy this debut from Lambert & Walz. The two men’s guitar playing meshes well, and their vocal styles help give the album a nice balance. Lambert’s bluesy vocals provide several songs with an extra edge, while Walz’s smoother, folk-tinged style adds a sense of longing to the numbers he takes the lead on. I’d certainly like to hear more originals from the two, and would even like to hear them with a full band behind them, giving an extra bit of drive to their already strong music.
For more information on Lambert & Walz, visit their website at www.lambertandwalz.com. Their new album can be purchased from CDBaby or directly from the duo.