Before Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, before the manic instrumental workouts and high nasal yelps of Bill Monroe or The Stanley Brothers, country music existed in its purest form in places like Bristol, Tenn., where The Carter Family recorded its cautionary tales and gospel tunes, and where Jimmie Rodgers unleashed his blue yodel upon the world. Ohio folksingers Ann and Phil Case honor that musical tradition on their third album Why Should We Be Lonely? Judging by the results, country music is alive and very, very well.
A few of these 13 songs were, indeed, made famous by luminaries such as Rodgers, the Carters and The Louvin Brothers. A few were never made famous by folks you’ve never heard, such as The Mississippi Mud Steppers and Dwight Diller. And a few more are in the public domain, their origins lost in the mists of an Appalachian holler. All of them are beautifully sung by Ann and Phil Case, and their soaring, plaintive harmonies will call to mind the best this genre has to offer, from A.P. and Sara Carter right on up through Gram and Emmylou and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I’m ultimately won over by the simplicity and utter guilelessness of these performances; stark, unadorned love songs and old gospel hymns with minimal accompaniment. Fans of old-time country music and great harmony singing will immensely enjoy this sweetly unpretentious, understated, and quietly beautiful album.