Folk music preserves old forms, but it can also reinvent them, grafting old tropes onto distant trees. The baroque folk-pop of Liam Robinson and Jean Rohe’s new album Into the Night courses with sophisticated writing and arranging even as it draws from traditional styles.
There’s the country-folk of “Where I’m Coming From,” whose lyrics starkly expose the troubled complexity of American heritage. There’s the cool chamber-pop pointillism of “Hey Houdini,” with touches of nu-grass and the Velvet Underground. A brass chorale reprise of the sleepy “Ways Down the Road” sets up the jug-band jump of “Singing Like a Saw,” which recalls the good-time acoustic scratch of the Asylum Street Spankers. Moody jazz meets the Jefferson Airplane in “Where Did You Go?” while the title track evokes ’70s soft rock.
The album’s smooth and precise two-part vocal harmonies sound both comforting and uplifting. They suggest the Everly Brothers, and also brought to my mind – maybe because I read that Robinson did musical direction and vocal arranging for Hadestown – Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s unjustly overlooked Child Ballads album.
Robinson & Rohe add flavor and depth with a brass section. “One Last Waltz,” for example, has a laid-back Tom Waits vibe, yet the horns made me think of the British folk-rock revival band Bellowhead.
Comparisons aside, Into the Night bubbles with creativity and originality, proving that exciting new music can emerge from a scene that rests on traditional forms. On this, their second album as a duo, the musical partnership of Liam Robinson and Jean Rohe bears fruit of exceptional freshness and vitality.
Into the Night is out May 26, 2023 on Righteous Babe Records. Pre-order is available.