The Lowest Pair took its name from a John Hartford poem. And that John Hartford poem is a pun on what many kids grew up reciting as The Lord’s Prayer. But this banjo-toting, bluegrass-tinged duo doesn’t really have anything to do with religion or punny lyrics. Comprised of Arkansas-born, Washington-based Kendl Winter and Minnesotan Palmer T. Lee, the two alternate between picking banjos and strumming guitars while singing sweet harmonies over each other—no other musicians or instruments needed.
The duo’s sophomore album, The Sacred Heart Sessions, was written, recorded and released just more than a year after Team Love Records released its outstanding, yet wickedly overlooked debut, 36¢. The Sacred Heart Sessions continues to showcase The Lowest Pair’s original sparse folk styling; however, unlike the initial songs that each songwriter penned individually, Winter and Lee co-wrote much of The Sacred Heart Sessions. Winter, previously one of the founding members of Northwest-based The Blackberry Bushes, sings with a nasally timbre, one that’s as wispy as a raked pile of autumn leaves, but as confident as the kid who’s about to jump in it. Lee, however, the former front man of the high-energy bluegrass band The Boys n’ the Barrels, brings more of the twang to The Lowest Pair, especially in boot-stompers like “Shipwright” and “Fourth Time’s A Charm.” Throughout The Sacred Heart Sessions, Winter and Lee alternate singing lead, but the harmonies they provide for each other tread into excitingly unexpected territories and provide a depth and context that renders each song inferior without the other’s voice.
Recorded in Duluth in the same old church where Low recorded its lauded C’mon in 2011, The Lowest Pair’s most sparse songs on The Sacred Heart Sessions find a warm home in the acoustics of the locale. And those ballads capture the very best of what The Lowest Pair can accomplish and share. Lead single “Rosie” takes two banjos to romp through apologies and lessons learned, while “Howl” represents the sonic antithesis of those hipster, retro shirts with the wolves howling at the overly-cratered moon. Its authenticity and emotion seep into somber metaphors as Winter and Lee sing in hushed voices about late-night conversations among the night-roaming predators. But it’s the soft “In the During of a Moment,” with its sporadic guitar strums and harmonics plucked on the banjo, that’s most arresting. Winter and Lee reminisce on the immediacy of our lives, singing and harmonizing the age-old mantra harmonizing, “there’s only here / there’s only now.” So with their bare-bones instrumentation and country-inspired, heartstring-tugging narratives, The Lowest Pair might be one of the best under-the-radar Americana duos today.