Approximately 8,160 miles separate Christchurch, New Zealand, and Saskatoon, Canada.
But that didn’t stop Marlon Williams from finding his musical soulmates, Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum of the Canadian folk duo Kacy & Clayton, a few years ago. Thank goodness.
Credit the internet, of course. Williams—a Kiwi crooner beholden to mid-20th-century country, soul and pop—apparently heard Kacy & Clayton’s traditionalist folk playing on Spotify during a tour of Europe in 2017. With haste, he messaged Anderson and Linthicum (who are cousins) and the group struck up a friendship, then decided to try making an album together.
So at the end of 2018, Williams traveled to Saskatchewan, back when traveling from New Zealand to Saskatchewan was something people might actually do. Over a three-week period, the trio wrote and recorded most of what would become their new collaborative album, Plastic Bouquet.
It’s possible this union could’ve not worked, but it’s hard to imagine how. For years, both Williams and Kacy & Clayton have been rising in the world of roots music, thanks in part to their shared leanings toward throwback sounds. And on Plastic Bouquet, their styles merge seamlessly, which is a word that’s overused to describe music these days. In this case, though, it perfectly captures these musicians’ complete coalescence.
That’s a testament not only to their shared interests and vision, but also to their skills. Throughout the album, Anderson and Williams handle all the vocals. (They wrote all the songs and produced Plastic Bouquet, too.) Linthicum sings in Kacy & Clayton, but here, he focuses mostly on playing guitars and keyboards.
The result of this division of labor is a set of tunes that are beautiful, uncluttered and exquisitely crafted, with each member of the group carrying their weight but also showing restraint in service to the songs. That’s why Linthicum’s guitar work—whether it’s electri-fried and twangy (“Isn’t It”), warped and acoustic (“Devil’s Daughter”) or softly glowing and weightless (“I Wonder Why”)—feels like an equal pillar in the combo’s sound. And the burbling, vintage-sounding organ part that pulses through “I’m Unfamiliar” gives Plastic Bouquet a dash of much-needed textural variation, right at its halfway point.
The fact that Linthicum’s nuanced playing can even hold up its end of the bargain here is pretty amazing, because Anderson and Williams are both stunning vocalists. Whether they’re singing solo or in duet, about moonlit infatuation or pawn-shop wedding rings, both of their voices are sturdy but versatile, and soaked with emotion. They never fail to cut clear through the musical arrangements without relegating them to background noise.
Highlights include the title track, an old-timey boom-chick-chick waltz that assigns authentic sadness to anonymous roadside memorials, and “Light of Love,” a slinky ‘60s-flavored song that delivers the album’s best melody through call-and-response vocals. Williams takes a turn in the spotlight for “Arahura,” a jaw-droppingly gorgeous tribute to a New Zealand river, while in the slow-burning country number “Old-Fashioned Man,” Anderson cheekily turns back the advances of a creep in the first verse, cornering Williams into the creep’s role later in the song. It’s a clever bit of writing that emphasizes the story, and Williams handles his part with good-natured aplomb.
That kind of interplay—between Anderson and Williams, specifically—is an essential part of what makes Plastic Bouquet so effortlessly successful. They sound like they’ve been singing together all their lives—as if Anderson and Linthicum somehow stumbled upon a third cousin in a faraway land. Here’s hoping the distance doesn’t stop them from doing this again and again and again.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.