John & Michele Law,
Estimated Time of Revival
(JML Music, 2000)

There's a lot to be said for simplicity, especially if it results in a CD like John and Michele Law's Estimated Time of Revival.

The husband-and-wife duo from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, has a no-frills style that is anything but stark or skimpy. Both sing and play guitar, and most of the songs are co-composed by the couple. (Joe Charron contributed to "Trail of Diamonds" and Eugene Smith wrote "Dust Off Our Dreams.") John also plays mandolin and Michele plays bass. Apart from some percussion added to tracks 2, 9 and 10 and a banjo on track 8, that's it -- and that's plenty. Their approach relies on the strength of their music and poetry, not on elaborate mixes, and it's a good choice, resulting in a clean, direct sound.

The Laws mix bluegrass, blues, country, swing and gospel all to good effect, resulting in a nice balance among the 10 tracks. The first track, "Hobo Trail," is a celebration of riding the rails. John sings lead with close harmonies from Michele; their voices blend well, and the bouncing swinging rhythm suggests the rhythm of the rails. Michele takes the lead on the title track, "Estimated Time of Revival," about a highway chaplain in a truck-stop chapel. (A photograph in the liner notes shows the actual trailer.) Her voice suits the folk-like melody, and the lyrics are evocative: "When the hum of the highway gets lonesome / You know you can find him there / Ready to refuel the emptiest souls / Riding on a wing and a prayer."

Spare evocative imagery is the hallmark of the third track, "Waiting Out the Storm," as well with lines like "The trees are being tested today." The waltz beat and the mandolin gives the song a cozy feeling; one can imagine sitting inside with a loved one finding pleasant ways to wait out the storm. The music shifts with "Willow and the Dove," a pure gospel song that starts out a capella, then adds guitar and mandolin to joyous effect.

"Trail of Diamonds" veers closer to a country ballad; again, the harmonies blend beautifully in the poignant song about love that didn't go wrong -- it just wasn't right to begin with. A trilling mandolin adds just the right emotional edge. The mood lifts with the jaunty, jazzy "Stayin' Up Late" -- who hasn't reveled in the prospect of no work the next day?

"Stone Glass and Wood" is another slow and sad song mingling country and gospel elements, about someone who was away from home for far too long. In contrast, "One Track Mind" is a driving bluegrass song featuring lively picking on the mandolin and Michele's smooth vocals.

The final two tracks are a pair of poignant love songs. In "Believe Our Love," John sounds startlingly like James Taylor in this gentle song about needing to have faith in love's endurance. The final song, "Dust Off Our Dreams," has a sweet ambiguity to it: it could be about a couple who decided to revive their youthful dreams -- or it could be about a couple whose dreams took them in different directions. I prefer the first interpretation. It's a good finish to the CD, sweet but not sugary, tender but not trite.

The CD is put together with care and polish, a sincere musical presentation that avoids arty hype. If you like music with thoughtful lyrics and smooth harmonies, then give Estimated Time of Revival a try.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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