By Mike England
There are some musical pairings that when you hear them, they instantly put a smile on your face and lift your spirits. Like the husband-and-wife duo the Foreign Landers: David Benedict and Tabitha Agnew Benedict. David hails from Clemson, South Carolina, and is an award-winning mandolin player who played with the folk/Americana group Missy Raines & the New Hip and the popular bluegrass band Mile Twelve. Tabitha is from Northern Ireland and is an award-winning banjo player who played with the critically lauded all-female UK bluegrass group Midnight Skyracer. The couple met in 2017 at the International Bluegrass Music Association Convention and were married in 2019 in Northern Ireland. Covid caused them to reevaluate their priorities, and they placed establishing roots, family, and playing music together at the top of the list. They settled in the small town of Travelers Rest, in the northwestern part of South Carolina, and evidently like it enough that they named their album after it.
The Foreign Landers
(Tin Foil Studio)
This debut album (following a six-song EP released in 2021) is full of memorable songs with beautiful melodies, intelligent lyrics, and first-rate musicianship. A collection of original autobiographical songs chronicling the at-times challenging arc of their transatlantic romance, plus a cover of a classic bluegrass standard (Jimmy Martin’s “Sunny Side of the Mountain”), Travelers Rest is a recording of anticipation, longing, and hope. It opens with progressive acoustic groove of “Traveler,” which is sung from the point of view of Tabitha’s parents in Northern Ireland. An Americana flavor is prevalent on tracks such as “Waves” and “We’ll Be Fine,” whereas Tabitha’s heritage comes through most clearly on the instrumental medley “Johnny’s Peacock/The Red-Tailed Hawk.”
Both Benedicts play guitar on the album, trading off depending on the song—a custom Leo Posch 000 guitar in either standard or drop-D tuning. Tabitha handles most of the lead vocals; her voice is delicate, soulful, and laced with hints of her Celtic roots. Among those lending their talents to the recording are guitarist extraordinaire John Doyle, Brian Finnegan on tin whistle, Ethan Ballinger on guitar, and Brittany Haas on fiddle.