Excellent debut album from Texan duo stuffed full of songs with catchy melodies and strong harmonies.
Hailing from Texas, Briscoe are made up of Truett Heintzelman and Philip Lupton who first met as fourteen-year-olds at a summer camp just outside Kerryville where they discovered a shared passion for the music of John Prine, as well as folk duo’s past and present such as Simon and Garfunkel and the Avett Brothers. The friends would reunite a few years later at the University of Texas/Austin where they formed a duo performing self-penned numbers at house shows and backyard parties that highlighted both their vocal prowess and multi-instrumental skills. Word spread quickly and very soon they were selling out local venues and clubs which brought them to the attention of ATO Records who signed the duo while they were still pursuing their undergraduate degrees. With a healthy number of songs about coming of age that adventurously attempt to create a bridge between traditional American roots music and its modern-day incarnation, the duo decamped to North Carolina to record ‘West Of It All’, their debut album under the experienced eye of Grammy nominated producer Brad Cook whose previous work includes that of both Bon Ivor and Waxahatchee.
The album opens with ‘The Well’ and its gently picked banjo that draws the listener in close to immediately discover a lyrical sagacity that runs throughout the album’s ten songs, as it bravely challenges the uncomfortable with such lines as “Will you be content with the stories told of your days of youth to your days of old”. The song, full of water metaphors inspired by Lupton’s Bachelor’s degree in hydrogeology, gradually builds to an almost anthemic rootsy rave-up replete with a chorus of rousing harmonies that simply demand your participation. Throughout ‘West Of It All’ the recurring theme of the Lone Star State with its vast expanse of rural countryside shimmers like a heat haze as the Texan natives draw on personal experiences to create their own geography. In particular ‘Coyotes’ with its homage to West Texas and the closing track ‘Hill Country Baby’ which draw from a broader musical palette where slide guitar duals with alto sax and hand claps compete with energetic harmonies to create the heaviest number on the album.
Elsewhere the exquisite ‘Sparrows’ a literary folk songs inspired by the character of Cathy Ames from John Steinbeck’s classic novel ‘East Of Eden’ carefully gathers the listener up and carries them through the intricate chord progression driven forward by the uptempo banjo playing juxtaposed against the sobriety of the storytelling “I seem to give you something to believe in, cause heaven knows you never did in me”. Musically, Heintzelman and Lupton’s ambitions run way beyond the obvious touchstones of many of the generic harmony singing duo with their sound at times already displaying a wider range of influences such as on ‘When The Desert’ where sublime slide guitar throughout helps draw favourable comparison to the mighty Little Feat. Later the melancholy vibe of ‘Scattered Mind’ suggests that Mumford and Sons may have been a more recent influence but here some subdued chords on the piano help to ensure its own identity. Throughout the album, the duo are wonderfully supported by Matt McGaughan on drums as well as the genius that is Phil Cook whose multi-instrument skills help give the tracks much of their diversity along with substance and depth.
With ‘West Of It All’, Briscoe have delivered a most wonderful debut album of ten songs full of fantastic harmonies and a lyrical sagacity that shows scant regard for their tender years, all brought together by some great musical dexterity and vision. Rarely has such an inexperienced act produced such a complete body of work on their debut and one can’t help but feel that the sky is very much the limit for this exciting duo.