Chris and Thomas | Land of Sea (Defend Music Inc.)

cd_christhomasThey sing as one, allowing for a constant, delicate interplay between the two. The result is often folk music at its most enchanting.






Folk music's biggest draw is also its biggest drawback: anyone can do it. Every night, in college campus coffeehouses across America, the evening air fills with the ill-conceived poems of a thousand would-be folkies. Folk's egalitarian tradition instructs us that all of these struggling singer-songwriters are part of the canon, but you and I know better: some people just don't get it.

That's why it's so nice to hear Chris and Thomas receive a bit of love in '07. They're keepin' it real for all the folkheads out there, with none of the poser pretensions of the college crowd or the off-putting wankery of the freak-folk scene. The duo's debut album, Land of Sea, sounds like the pair just sat down and recorded it straight through in one organic session. These arrangements are simply too sparse to allow for any gimmicks: strictly acoustic instruments, with light percussion and subtle assistance on strings, plus the duo's intertwined vocal harmonies. Neither Chris nor Thomas ever takes a vocal solo throughout the album's 50 minutes. They sing as one, allowing for a constant, delicate interplay between the two. The result is often folk music at its most enchanting.

Album opener "Land of Sea" slinks in on a loping rhythm before some crafty mandolin work establishes the central melody. The lyrics, appropriately enough, invoke an evening campfire scene: "Tell the story of a thousand years/ before the time of man appeared," sing the duo, quickly setting the rustic mood for the rest of the album.

Elsewhere, breakthrough single "Take These Thoughts" builds success from a similar foundation. It's one of the few dark songs on the album—which is a shame, because those same harmonies that usually sound so pacifying take on an unsettling edge when used for evil. Hearing two guys sing, "All I want is all that you possess," in perfect concord is one of those true neck-hair-raising moments.

The rest of the collection suffers somewhat for its sameness. Hymns about nature, life and love pass one after the next, each one a pleasant little journey, but none bold enough to stick its head above the rest. Simple, reassuring and inoffensive, these songs are perfect for studying or as background music for the family movie of the week. Closing track "Horse in the Sky" appeared on the soundtrack of the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Georgia Rule, which is as much a sign of mainstream success as it is a damning piece of evidence to the blandness that occasionally afflicts Land of Sea.

Chris and Thomas, as their low-key name implies, don't do a whole lot to draw notice to themselves musically. They require a bit of closer attention, which might not necessarily fly in today's glitz-fueled music scene. But like all good folk musicians, this duo is here to counterbalance excess. Folk, for all of its eclecticism, ought to keep such a levelheaded purpose close to heart. C+ | Jeremy Goldmeier

RIYL: Calexico, Iron & Wine

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