Blonde & Grey’s debut album Face the Music begins the duo’s recording career in a prolific fashion. Many acts can cook up thirteen supposed songs but, invariably, there are a few lesser compositions among them. Blonde & Grey, however, composed and recorded thirteen top-shelf tracks for Face the Music without any dip in quality. Kathy Olsen and Neil Friend’s musical partnership synthesizes several influences into a coherent and individual voice recalling the best of artists such as Joni Mitchell, The Moody Blues, and Fleetwood Mac, among others.
It doesn’t sound like a cheap imitation. The title song opens the album on a confident note and blending hard-hitting energetic drums with an acoustic and flute-led top-line melody is a canny move. Many listeners will expect a rock song on the basis of the drum introduction alone. It’s ear-catching how Blonde & Grey straddle a line between hard-driving energy and maintaining a light instrumental touch. The flute is essential for this.
Friend and Olsen place a high priority on their vocal arrangements. “Downstream” feints initially and promises listeners a pastoral folk song. It shifts gears early, however, and another assertive backbeat punctuates the song. Their vocals are the song’s unquestionable highlight though. Blonde & Grey apply post-production effects to their singing without slathering with echo.
Little can mar this performance anyway. The opening pair, if nothing else, illustrates the gentle glow the duo generates with little apparent effort. Juxtaposing the singing’s near-ethereal lift with a physical foundation gives “Face the Music” and “Downstream” added urgency. These songs establish a template for the eleven songs ahead and allow for Blonde & Grey to build on them as they like.
It’s an underrated aspect of these songs. There’s a loose, open-ended vibe present in the duo’s material that makes them ideal candidates for live performance. It isn’t difficult to imagine the two stretching “Downstream” out for live audiences. “Mud Mills Road” is another outstanding example of their vocal arranging talents in action and eschews the potentially strident drums of earlier tracks.
The sound is more settled overall, but the song still sparkles. Flute assumes many of the duo’s melodic responsibilities instead of playing an important supporting role and it’s an important break from their influences. “Settle With Yourself” has steadily mounting tension and the scolding, rueful lyrics are one of the album’s best. This is an elastic song – hearing it as a rock song, blues, or singer with an acoustic guitar, isn’t hard. Casting it as a simmering yet insistent baleful warning, however, will have scores of admirers.
“A Bird that Whistles (Corrina, Corrina)” is the duo’s take on a true folk chestnut. Maybe it isn’t quite “Barbara Allen”, but a long list of artists precedes Blonde & Grey crafting their own version of “Corrina, Corrina”. Olsen takes the lead vocal here and takes the song on her shoulders. We’re back to the duet format with “All Day” and their delicate interplay scales the same heights as before. There are understated variations in the arrangement that further set the song apart.
One of the better stripped-down tracks on the album, “Gracie’s Grace”, comes late in the release. The elegant autumnal quality of the song is a perfect fit here. Blonde & Grey and the song are well-served by production capturing the nuance and feel of instrument and vocals alike. Face the Music does just that and produces a vibrant and full body of music anyone can enjoy.
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