The Louisiana-based duo of Clay Parker and Jodi James plucked the name of their first full-length album—The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound—from a line in a semi-obscure Woody Guthrie tune called “When the Curfew Blows”: “Was the lonesomest sound, boys/ that ever heard sound, boys/ like the midnight wind, boys/ when the curfew blows.” Musically, their record doesn’t overtly owe that much to Guthrie—though its roots are clearly in rural American folk, country, and blues—but they certainly do understand what that lonesomest sound is all about.
This haunting and darkly beautiful album seems to have drifted in from another, much simpler time, yet its lyric concerns are at once timeless and universal. The graceful intertwining of Parker’s and James’ crystalline guitars and the beautifully mournful blend of their harmonies might bring to mind Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris (the latter not a comparison I make lightly), but the duo unquestionably have a distinctive sound of their own that comes through clearly in every song—all of them co-written by the pair, who met in 2009 and have been playing together since 2014.
Acoustic guitars drive the tunes—that’s Parker on a 1976 Gibson J-45/50 in the left channel, James playing a 1962 Gibson LG-0 in the right—and a few feature just the graceful symmetry of those two instruments and voices. Both are effective lead singers, but it seems like a perfect soaring harmony is never too far away. The duo also employs a handful of other musicians who lend marvelously subtle and tasteful support at different points, whether it’s Paul Buller’s lovely pedal steel on “Easy, Breeze” and mandolin punctuation on “Katie’s Blues,” or the evocative fiddle and swooping bowed upright bass (by Clyde Thompson and David Hinson, respectively) on “Cumberland Mill.” The album was recorded in Baton Rouge and Nashville, and mixed by Parker, James, and Chris Finney in Bogalusa, Louisiana—both the production choices and the sonics are first-class all the way.
This isn’t an album that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands your attention; rather it gently burrows into your consciousness with its unhurried Bayou pacing, at times dreamy lyrics, and always-persuasive and committed performances. “Up” moments are rare—the song “Yazoo City” qualifies, I suppose—but what they do with the various ballad forms that dominate is truly magical. It takes a particular kind of courage to end an album with a glacial 12-minute folk-blues number (“Killin’ Floor”), but Parker and James not only pull it off, they left me wanting to hear even more. (You can listen to the entire album on Spotify… and you should!)
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.