What a great little record to hang around the house or back porch with or listen to while crawling around, doing chores, or rolling down the freeway pretending it's 1940 and you're driving on that Route 66. But it is also a worthy and powerful introduction to two titan women of the guitar, both at the forefront of their respective disciplines, joining forces to achieve something greater than the sum of their parts, and western music magic be crazy.
Their name is Ida Red, and the outfit looks like stand-up steel guitarist Rose Sinclair, who you may have seen with Wayne "The Train" Hancock, and western swing and jazz guitarist Sophia Johnson repeats some classics the Great American Songbook with the addition of some original originals and immersion in the "Twin Guitars" style of vintage composition.
Think of the proximity of blood harmonies played only over electrified strings. It is not easy even for the most experienced players as it requires a lot of study, discipline, anticipation and instinct with your partner. But man, the results are worthwhile, as you can hear on this duo's debut album called Harmony Grits, recorded at Dale Watson's Ameripolitan Studios in Austin.
There is just something universal and eternal about the melodies on this album, whether it is about refining old ones or perfecting new ones. In fact, the transition between old and new is seamless here. It all sounds timeless and tried and tested, yet delivers all of those pleasant retro moments, including the tone of the stand-up version of the steel guitar, which is very different from its pedal steel cousin and goes back even further in time.
Although mostly instrumental, Sophia Johnson also sings on several tracks, and that's pretty gorgeous. Guitar isn't their only distinctive discipline. While I have to say, even if you prefer vocal tracks because of their accessibility, on this record you are just as likely to get lost in the complex melodies and harmonic bliss of the instrument-only tracks, and maybe even find them as your favorites.
And while the double guitar style is the foundation of Harmony Grits, it's the individual improvisation that really sets it apart, with not only Rose Sinclair and Sophia Johnson doing a clinic on their respective instruments, but also adding Emily Gimble on piano, and Lauryn Gould on Saxophone rounds off the lead instrumentation with a multitude of talented women.
Named after a song originally recorded by jazz pioneer Mary Lou Williams and her band Girl Stars in 1946, Harmony Grits and Ida Red reaffirm the legacy of women in western music, jazz and swing by paying tribute to the past and contribute to the present and future.
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