The Folk Song Magazine
Ann and Phil Case - The Springtime of Life
These 14 old-time duets are, for the most part, old standbys and favorites. Of most recent vintage are two Ola Belle Reed tunes, the venerable "High On A Mountain" and the title track (co-written by Ola Belle's son, David Reed).
The Carter Family is also well represented here ("Lover's Return," "You've Been A Friend To Me," "Coal Miner's Blues," " Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room"), while the remainder include tried-and-true classics like "In The Sweet Bye And Bye" and "When The Roses Bloom Again." It would have been all too easy for this album to be just another collection of songs that have been overdone by hundreds of previous musicians, but in the hands of Ann and Phil Case, they take on fresh life. Ann's voice is one of the most distinctive and refreshing to come along in quite a while. Like Iris DeMent some five years ago, she has the kind of vocal quality that makes the listener sit bolt upright and pay attention. This is not to say that she sound just like Iris DeMent-somewhere between Mary McCaslin and Debby McClatchy would be a little closer - but the Cases' version of "Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room" is every bit as good as that recorded by Iris on Infamous Angel. Another comparison that will inevitably be drawn, since this is an album of old-time male-female duets, is to the work of Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher over the last decade, and there is a clear point of reference here, as well - although decidedly different in mood and tempo, the Cases' "Lover's Return" holds up very well against the Brislin-Stecher version. With the tunes arranged nicely - sequentially as well as musically - the album flows effortlessly from one cut to the next so fluidly that, if your CD player cycles back to the first cut, you might not notice the album has started over. No problem. Listen to it again. It will grow on you with each hearing. Phil Case is no idle bystander in all this. His harmony vocals solidly support Ann's leads, and his instrumental work on guitar, banjo and mandolin is tastefully done and calculated to enhance the overall effect of each tune. His work on the one instrumental here ("Sally In The Garden / Elzic's Farewell") reminds us that banjo tunes don't have to be f lashy and frenetic to be satisfying. The single aspect of this album that might conceivably be viewed as a negative is that this is a self-released album - Dry Run is the Cases' own label. They are more than deserving of wider distribution, as the bottom line here is that this is a very good piece of work. -JL