It was Greil Marcus who coined the phrase, “old weird America” in his book, Invisible Republic, when discussing Dylan’s touchstone, the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk music, describing the songs therein as, “palavers with a community of ghosts”. There was an element of this musical version of a séance when The Lowest Pair (Kendl Winter from Washington State and Palmer T. Lee from Minneapolis) descended on the Fallen Angels Club for a banjo infused evening (although acoustic guitars were also brandished). The pair both have string band backgrounds but as a duo have concentrated on the banjo studying clawhammer and three finger techniques while also delving into American roots music. The band name is a nod to a John Hartford song, Hartford being one of their banjo heroes and like him they inject their old time music with a great deal of their own personalities.
This was a hushed affair. Winter and Lee hovered around the single microphone, rarely singing into it. The banjos didn’t duel, instead they parried, or more accurately, pirouetted around each other. Vocally they harmonised but more often sang in counterpoint, Winter’s fragile voice (not dissimilar to Victoria Williams) bolstered by Lee’s more conventional vocals. It wasn’t all reverential however with Winter in particular light-hearted in the between song banter. They mused on a title for a follow up of their album, ‘I Reckon I’m Fixin’ On Kickin’ Round To Pick A Little’ ending up with a couple of tongue twisters and at one point asked the audience if they wanted to hear a song about a chicken or a murder ballad (the poor old chicken was given its marching orders). There were some lusty numbers such as ‘Two Dollar Bill’ and they did approach the high lonesome bluegrass sound on occasion but it was on numbers such as ‘Darlin’ Cory’ and ‘Minnesota, Mend Me’ that the spectral moments which Marcus hymned chilled the room. A new song, described by Winter as a cross between Alice in Wonderland and The Wickerman, was as spooky as they come with this writer musing that it could accompany a perusal of Wisconsin Death Trip. Throughout the night their delicate picking, which saw some intricate interplay, was indeed a delight and by the end the audience surely had experienced some of that old, weird America.
John Alexander as the support tonight was an inspired choice. He also delves into the rootsy hinterland of Americana although with a bluesier touch and a hint of the primitivism of John Fahey along with Robert Johnson’s alleged dalliance with the Devil. ‘All My Angels Have Fallen’ was given a gutsy rendition while ‘Used To Be A Friend Of Mine’ showed off his allegiance to UK sixties’ pickers such as Bert Jansch. A finely understated version of Tom Wait’s ‘Walking Spanish’ closed his short set with a flourish.