For an acoustic duo, The Lowest Pair electrified audiences when they toured the UK in 2018, their clinch mountain banjo sound exemplifying the spookier aspects of weird old Americana. Kendl Winter’s songs sounded as ancient as the hills while her chemistry with Palmer T. Lee was obvious in their playing and their harmonies. On record, they recorded as a banjo and guitar playing duo but they expanded their sound slightly on their last album, Fern Girl & Iceman which had a subdued rhythm section supported several of the songs. The Perfect Plan builds on this with several of the songs featuring a full band set up and there’s even a mellotron heard at one point. At times, the album reminds one of the early forays into country rock by the likes of Mike Nesmith, The Dillards and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but the arrangements here, for the most part, complement the duo’s essential core. Their banjos and guitar still carry most of the weight while Winter’s delicate wisp of a voice remains intriguing and is bolstered by Lee’s more robust vocals.
The opening song, How Far I Would Go, is classic Lowest Pair fare as their guitars and voices entwine on a delicate love song with wonderful imagery. This blends into the second number as a flurry of banjo and guitar introduces It’s Too Late Babe with its driving percussion taking the duo into much rockier territory – imagine Karen Dalton fronting Fleetwood Mac with John Hartford soloing on banjo – it’s invigorating and still recognisably The Lowest Pair. However, the atavistic Wild Animals with its cluttered instrumentation, skittering banjo and doom laden organ, along with its mantra of, “Breathe in, breathe out” loses the duo’s essential simplicity.
The remainder of the album is much more successful as the pair deliver some sublime slices of, for want of a better word, cosmic country, as on the quintessential Shot Down The Sky, the balm which is Morning Light and the longing Take What You Can, all benefitting from the addition of pedal steel. There are also several numbers more akin to earlier recordings such as the wonderful duetting on the acoustic Cast Away and the strident We Are Bleeding with its time changes and banjo and guitar jamming. The disc ends with the title song which is perhaps the best instance here of the band presence enhancing the duo’s roots with organ and ambient guitar sounds gently nudging the banjos and voices forward while Winter sings wonderfully on a song suffused with regret but lifted by hope.
All in all, The Lowest Pair’s foray into a fuller sound here is a winner with several of the songs quite sublime. Producer, Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) is to be congratulated for his sympathetic handling of the project.