Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Scow & Brough

Sharon by the Sea
By Eva Scow & Dusty Brough
Adventure Music

If you programmed a computer to generate a group best suited to the editorial preferences of No Depression (formerly the magazine, now the bookazine, whatever that is), the result would probably bear a striking resemblance to the duo of Eva Scow and Dusty Brough. Mandolin prodigy? Check. Diverse world music influences? Check. A blatant disregard for genre boxes? It’s all in there, and can be heard on their debut CD Sharon by the Sea, which is now available from Adventure Music.

Though defying category, Scow and Brough can sort of be thought of as a bluegrass string duo performing largely acoustic jazz with Latin and Brazilian rhythms and a folky attitude. That is an imperfect description, but at least it is a place to start. In fact, Scow and Brough are a string band unto themselves, with the former playing both acoustic and electric mandolins, as well as violin on Sharon, while the latter is heard on guitar (nylon string and electric), acoustic bass, and the Turkish cumbus. While their musical voices clearly dominate the proceedings, they are augmented by several musicians, most frequently percussionist John Martin III.

Despite their dazzling technique, Scow & Brough keep the mood relaxed throughout Sharon, never letting the music get overly frantic or rushed. Having co-written most of the tunes, the co-leaders show a knack for up-beat melodies, as on the opening pseudo-flamenco “Bird with Beastlike Qualities” and the easy-going “Rodolfo.” Scow and Brough’s highly attuned, seamless interplay is quite impressive throughout their set, at times requiring concerted listening to untwine their blended lines.

Their influences are indeed quite diverse, as on the classically inspired “Theoretically Speaking,” the traditional Venezuelan “Pica Pica,” and the vaguely Hot Club-sounding miniature “Best in Show,” (which clocks in at a mere forty-two seconds). However, some of the best tracks incorporate unexpected aural colors and combinations, particularly Javon Davis’s Fender Rhodes, which takes the title track in an unexpectedly funky direction and makes for an intriguing aural combination with Scow’s mandolin on “Gateway Chronicles.” On the concluding “Saturday,” Scow herself over-dubs on the Fender Rhodes to pleasing effect, before segueing into an appropriately greasy coda (complete with nightclub background noise), to close out the set.

Scow and Brough have an audible rapport and a really fresh sound. While Sharon might have benefited from a bit more contrast in terms of overall mood (like a legitimate up-tempo burner), it is surprisingly accomplished musical statement that actually appreciates with repeated listening.