Carol Elizabeth Jones
& Laurel Bliss,
Girl from Jericho
(Copper Creek, 2003)

Girl from Jericho is a pleasant, mild-mannered recording by two able singers rooted in the country-duet singing of the 1930s (dominated then by brother acts such as the Monroes, the Delmores and others). Carol Elizabeth Jones and Laurel Bliss know the music well and settle easily into satisfyingly accomplished, ear-friendly harmonies. When the songs are first-rate -- as in the opening cut, "Meet Me by the Moonlight, Alone," the haunting Carter Family rewrite of "The Prisoner's Song" -- the results are happy indeed.

The problem is that the songs aren't always, or even usually, this good, and sometimes they're simply boring. I like hillbilly heart songs when they're sung deep, and the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers and the other giants of rooted country didn't know how to do them any other way. When the singing is merely sweet, the sappiness of the lyrics becomes an inescapable issue, and soon that's all you're -- or at least I'm -- hearing. The second cut, "Trying to Get to You," is one of those songs devoid of original thought, compelling emotion or any discernible reason to exist, though one might not notice that with a performance more soulful than the one Jones and Bliss give us.

About half of the selections, in fact, do nothing, or anyway little, for me, except perhaps trigger a mild drowsiness (for which perhaps I, a chronic insomniac, ought to be grateful). Ola Belle Reed, a raw, uncompromising singer, makes the listener believe "You Don't Tell Me That You Love Me Anymore." Jones and Bliss, however, manage no more than a modestly mournful version that leads one to reflect how a strong performance can carry a weak song, while a more rote reading merely underscores the song's banal essence.

The best selections are such traditional warhorses as "Bring Back My Blue-Eyed Boy to Me," "One Morning in May" and "Father Adieu," where everything works and the Jones/Bliss harmonies transport the listener as far as he or she can go on the back of such too-familiar material. The one surprise is the original "Dance of Love," which still sounds to me -- after maybe half a dozen listenings -- like a same-sex love song. If that's what it is, it surely has the virtue of novelty on an album of old-time duets, but that's about it; otherwise, as its very title warns, it's schmaltz, and as devoid of nutrition as the other sugary confections here offered.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 27 December 2003

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