Americana music defies geographic boundaries but “Mountain Music from the flatlands of Milton Keynes” might give even the most travelled aficionado pause for thought. Listen to ‘Bonfire & Pine’ and Hope In High Water’s sparse, haunting sound will take you far from concrete England to the clear mountain air of Appalachia. Josh Chandler Morris and Carly Slade complement each other perfectly. To his slightly twangy voice she adds a purity straight from those mountains. Together they play stripped back acoustic folk, no more than guitar, banjo and upright bass with equally modest percussion.
Running throughout the record is the theme of healing. The result is deeply cathartic. If young in years, this duo draws on a full life of travelling, music and some very dark times. They face bereavement, addiction, abuse and broken relationships with an unswerving honesty totally devoid of any self-pity. Despite all this they see a future with glimpses of peace and hope.
The first two lines of opener ‘Healed’, “Starting to feel comfort in my own skin/ It took a healthy dose of psilocybin” suggest that a demanding listen lies ahead. But press on and feel the pain and reach, “Now I truly feel that I have been healed”. Morris recognises times have been hard, but there is no going back and his sense of hope is palpable.
‘It’s Over Now’ is Slade’s turn to offer similar sentiments. Her voice rings with classic 1960s folk as she confronts the scars of a childhood ridden with abuse. Individually they touch the heart but it is their harmonies that really hit home. The title track yearns for the simpler life away from the big city and out there with nature.
A pacy tempo speeds the journey from the simplicity of adolescence to adult complexity in the slightly menacing ‘Pray Away‘. Despite songs of bleak lives hope is never totally extinguished. To a banjo crying tears, the pain Slade evokes in ‘Stronger Than You Know’ almost reaches a howl of anguish. Yet even in that hell of domestic abuse, “You’re stronger than you know/ When you learn how to say no”.
Hope In High Water do not restrict themselves to their own experience. ‘Grenfell’ tells about a call to a resident unaware of the fire below her. She didn’t escape. It is horrific and we mourn but Slade’s anger rightly seethes with even greater intensity at the inequity that enveloped the entire tragedy as much as the flames did themselves. It is troubling but whoever you are, wherever you live (particularly in the neighbouring yet remote mansions), this is essential listening.
With hints of blues, soul and even flamenco, the path towards healing never wavers. But whether looking back or forwards Hope In High Water convey an acceptance that, given some of the circumstances, is staggering.