OPEN ROAD – Skylark (Delfina Records DR428-OR01)

SkylarkA duo comprising San Francisco native Lucia Comnes, now based in Italy, and West Coast songwriter John Palmer, Skylark is their debut release and brings together a mix of originals and covers, opening with the guitar driving, fiddle-backed co-write Southern gothic folk ‘No Hiding Place’, Comnes singing lead on an Appalachian-influenced number about an adolescent woman in an unsafe world, torn between tyrannical parents and escaping with her young lover. It’s followed by the first cover, the uptempo ‘Everybody Loves You’ by guitar maestro Larry Campbell, opening with a ragtime riff in the style of Reverend Gary Davis with Palmer singing about a less than charming female protagonist who takes herself too seriously. Inspired by an old American spiritual, ‘Lay My Burden Down’, a fiddle and fingerpicked folk blues guitar ballad about facing death, comes from Aiofe O’Donovan and was learnt from the 2011 recording by Alison Krauss while, continuing with the covers, ‘Wildflowers’ is, of course the Tom Petty classic, Palmer taking lead with Comnes harmonising on the chorus.

They return to their shared contributions for the title track, the first they wrote together, about the only bird that sings while in full flight and about seeking to escape the uncertainty of a constantly changing world, Comnes on lead with Palmer on lilting fingerstyle accompaniment and Gawain Mathews on pedal steel.

Palmer takes lead on his own ‘Beyond the Pines’, a reflective ballad, about the pleasures of remembering his childhood in the hills and villages of upstate New York and hope for better times ahead written, as you might surmise, during the pandemic and featuring double capo guitar backing with Comnes on viola.

The remaining numbers are all covers, ‘Loretta’ being the Townes Van Zandt number they chose to play to open the International Townes Van Zandt Festival in Como in 2022, Palmer on lead with Comnes’ harmonies . The Lucinda Williams hit given a new lease of life by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, ‘Can’t Let Go’ is given a stripped down uptempo down rockabilly rework with muted guitar laying down bluesy rock licks with fiddle flourishes, the album ending, fitting enough, with Comnes on lead and fiddle solo and Palmer duetting on the chorus for a fine, slow picked take on Richard Thompson’s aching, longing-infused diamond, ‘Dimming Of The Day’. A somewhat under the radar release, Skylark deserves to finds its way out into the daylight.

Mike Davies

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