Western New York acoustic folk duo The Lowlies’ debut album features masterful songwriting.
The Lowlies are the husband and wife duo of Caleb and Carolyn Spaulding. They have been making music together since the mid-2010s, at first simply as Caleb & Carolyn, touring and releasing singles and EPs along the way, with a substantial gap until now. Their early efforts were unfortunately not met with much attention, and a 20-state tour in 2015, opening for punk bands in front of disastrously-matched audiences, convinced them to leave music and settle in the Alleghany Forest with their young family in a cabin built by Caleb. They have only recently returned to officially recording the music they have been stealthily crafting at home during late nights, this time with the help of producer and composer Tyler Chester, who was smitten by their homemade demos.
On their debut album, Caleb’s sparse acoustic guitar playing is quite stirring, giving these songs’ carefully created lyrics an intimate, thoughtful background. The arrangements are often duets, with two characters’ perspectives featuring in the same story (‘Delta Star,’ ‘Yellow Backback’). Carolyn’s voice is vulnerable without tipping into passivity or sweetness and sometimes resembles Natalie Merchant’s. Together, Caleb and Carolyn’s harmonies are probably among the best male-female duos. ‘Drink From The Well’ is about travelling thousands of miles, on what sounds like I-90, through South Dakota, Minnesota, and Illinois to get to a loved one in Buffalo, New York, with the distance ticking down as the song progresses. An earlier version appeared on an EP, but here it is more fully formed. ‘Delta Star’ is a gripping ballad about an escaped convict running to meet his love, using the stars to navigate in the dark: “Little Dipper and the northern star / I don’t know if I can run another night farther.” Caleb’s mournful guitar keeps the suspense going, but there’s some hope that the two protagonists get away together with a happy ‘Shawshank Redemption’ ending.
Maybe this recurring emphasis on fleeing, running, escaping, travelling, or just moving for the sake of moving – despite also sounding weary – is a reaction to the couple’s setting down roots and working at regular jobs they have had to take to make ends meet. The delicate ‘Simple Reminder’ (featuring Sara Watkins) was inspired by an encouraging phone call during a dreary late winter day that may have led to this album. Caleb says, “There’s something simple and obvious, but somehow deep and mysterious about how uplifting a springtime morning with birds singing hits me every year.”
“The Lowlies” is a testament to continuing to create beautiful music, simply for the joy of doing it, no matter what the current status of the marketplace happens to be. All it took were some good friends to keep the faith with the Spauldings. You can only hope Caleb gets to buy back the motorcycle he sold to help fund this record.