(Erased Tapes, released 7 April 2017)
“May you live in interesting times” goes the apocryphal curse; it’s a dangerous cliché to assume great art is necessarily produced during points of crisis and confusion. But the frustration of everyday noise and anxieties was enough to send musician Peter Broderick away to the solitude of his coastal Oregon studio, along with multi-instrumentalist and collaborator David Allred, in pursuit of something simpler. Find the Ways is the fruit of their shared labour, a minimal record of folksy numbers for violin, double bass, and two voices. Recalling the worked and reworked solo compositions of Arthur Russell, minus any trace of studio magic, Allred & Broderick’s first release as a duo aims, and largely succeeds, to do a lot with a little.
Find the Ways’ warm tonal consistency across 10 tracks gives the impression of a seamless live concert played in a cosy living room on a dark winter’s night, alive with breathy flourishes, laughter, and the occasional bum note. It exudes a feeling of – dare I say it – ‘hygge’. However, the sheer restlessness and technical chops of the players is far from horizontal. Instrumental tracks ‘Two Otters’ and ‘Four Aspens’ respectively miniaturise a classical minuet and a string quartet, while the disarming vocal-only lead single ‘The Ways’ simulates the feel of an old folk ditty, sounding as if it came straight from a rural pub in the Welsh hills. Later tracks like the self-congratulatory ‘I’m Not Crazy’ and the jaunty stage musical lilt ‘Robert, Please’ may come off as smug novelty fridge magnet drollery, but they’re just goofy and self-aware enough to work.
Find the Ways, for all its charm and approachability, straddles risky territory. Despite the overtly protest-related cover art by artist and frequent label collaborator Peter Liversidge, the album itself might cynically be dismissed as naive or acquiescently apolitical. “In the grand scheme we’re all the same” sing Allred & Broderick on ‘The Ways’, seemingly resistant of any political hot potatoes with a wet, offhand “why can’t we all just get along?” But the language of folk music, much like Allred & Broderick’s reductionist mission statement, is notably paired back to the colloquial. “Helping others in tiny little ways / to help others help me help others in need” sing the duo on opener ‘Living on a Wire’, portraying a precarious world of greed and ineptitude in which everyday kindness can be a binding agent. Cyclical and reciprocal generosity – history’s biggest moral conundrum – is a complex and elusive goal; but as Allred & Broderick insist on this album, “let’s finds the ways”.