It has been three years since Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s last release and it seems that more than time has been left behind. The stripped-down duo of Tim Elsenberg and Jana Carpenter (they used to be a six-piece) have crafted an equally lean sound that has lost none of the sweet tragedy of previous offerings but may prove to be a step too far for some fans.
The good news is that this is a very good record and has the potential to firmly convince the naysayers. The most stunning revelation of this album is the intricacy with which the vocalists interweave their harmonies – beautiful polyphonic, meandering melodies that can roll and soar in equal measure. The simple down-strums that give way to accumulation and powerful cadences can sometimes evoke Paul McCartney’s Wings at their very best. The instrumentation is sparse in places but manages to create a blanket of harmony with surprise visits from guitar solos and piano accompaniments that evolve each track with care and grace. It keeps the whole album fresh; revelatory even, on occasion. Despite the closeness of the harmonies, the pair still manage to evoke loneliness, isolation, loss. Don’t expect doom & gloom though: ‘Why the Long Face’ has a cheeky backdrop to it and the lilting, oceanic flow of ‘The Brier Bell’ brings welcome variety to what is, despite some lengthy indulgence (‘Shelter of Reeds’), a highly engaging and absorbing album from beginning to end.