BY PAT MORAN / FROM THE JANUARY-FEBRUARY ISSUE OF ACOUSTIC GUITAR
“Watch lights turn into stars,” Pharis Romero sings in “Hometown Blues,” the opening song on on the folk duo’s latest Lula Records release, Bet on Love. In a phrase, she encapsulates the album: cozy but curious, intimate but open, homespun but imaginative.
In the tiny town of Horsefly, British Columbia, Pharis and Jason Romero build instruments and raise their family in a modest banjo shop. For their fifth full-length album, the couple plays live on the shop floor, occasionally bolstered by guest players on bass and mandolin. Pharis strums her 1939 Gibson J-35 and sings about fresh starts and unseen troubles in “New Day.” Jason joins in, weaving waltzing and cyclical textures with precise and spare picking on his 1934 Gibson L-00. On the cautionary but encouraging “Roll on My Friend,” Jason switches to plucked and percolating picking on his homemade gourd banjo. His weathered vocal grabs the spotlight before dissolving into warm swarming harmonies with Pharis.
With a catchy sing-along chorus, the title track is propelled by a descending percussive and ringing riff on Jason’s Fraulini 12-string. On the pulsing, gently rocking instrumental “New Caledonia,” Jason’s banjo bubbles as Pharis’ whirlpooling picking skips like ripples in a stream.
The cantering “A Bit Old School” is practically rockabilly, riding Jason’s bouncing banjo while Pharis sings of finding a fresh path through a familiar forest: “Every place you can call your own,” she sings, summing up a world view that cleaves to tradition while blazing new trails, which also happens to describes this album nicely.