Lonesome Brothers,
(Captivating, 2006)

Heretofore unknown to me except by name, I learn that the Lonesome Brothers are a group from Massachusetts, essentially acoustic-guitarist/vocalist Jim Armenti and bassist/vocalist Ray Mason, formed in 1986 as a sort of side-project to occupy them while the two weren't working bread-and-butter rock gigs. From the name I would have bet that they were hillbilly-duet revivalists, but I would have lost.

Mono is an OK album, with respectably written songs whose slim melodies get fattening from Doug Beaumier's dobro, Tom Shea's squeezebox and mandolin, and Jim Weeks's "traveling kit," whatever that is. What it brings to mind is the sort of thing that started getting called "folk music" around 1970, when that phrase no longer denoted traditional and tradition-based material, but rather, acoustic-pop originals composed by persons -- legions of them, it soon developed, reproducing faster than eye could see or imagination imagine -- who strummed guitars and warbled woes in coffeehouses. Most didn't sound as if they knew or cared much about real folk music.

No less than Bob Dylan -- who, after all, is surely as responsible for the infestation as anyone (well, there's always James Taylor, of course) -- once complained about going somewhere to hear a "folk singer" and hearing no folk songs. Probably, fashions having moved on, the Lonesome Brothers don't think of themselves as folk singers; their website uses more current identifiers: Americana, alt.country and the trendy like. Well, it's no more those than it's folk music.

To my hearing, the problem with this stuff is that -- even when rendered competently in a technical sense -- it lacks roots and resonance. It is, instead, quite the contrary: ephemeral and evanescent. The style's typically inward-looking lyrics document the state of the singer-songwriter's current or recent romantic/psychic life, alternating that theme with the occasional song of wry or humorous observation (or, more rarely, protest), perhaps because the singer fears losing the sympathies of listeners less inclined to fret about the singer's love/emotional plight than their own. Let me put it this way: this kind of music has kept me out of coffeehouses for many years. One recalls the late Bill Monroe's putdown of music he judged shallow and inconsequential: "That ain't no part of nothin'."

Well, the Lonesomes aren't that bad -- I've certainly heard worse -- but their songs, which seem to come from nowhere but other songs in this effectively nameless genre, are just sort of there, and when the CD has stopped spinning, they're not there. You are neither better nor worse for the experience.

by Jerome Clark
20 January 2007

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