The Beauty of 23
was really supposed to be a different album. This second outing from distinguished vets Lynn Blakey and John Chumbris (she: Tres Chicas, Let's Active, Holiday, and Oh-OK; he: Slickee Boys, the Chris Stamey-led Alaska, The Pinetops) was intended to be a quieter, more atmospheric affair than their collected-demos debut Blame Love
. At some point, possibly by drafting drummers Will Rigby and Nic Brown, things got livelier than planned. "Rosary" offers a taste of the original blueprint, and the gentler approach is revisited on "Belong (Lily Song)," with both offering as subdued a sound as can be produced with vocals and guitars that both yearn to ring out. The evolution of The Beauty of 23
is best represented by the lovely title track, a slowly building number with grooves to burn, and the snappy rocker "Never Say Goodbye." A cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Flying Shoes" is also a triumph, striking the perfect balance between rustic and radio-ready.The voice of chief songwriter Blakey is a gorgeous instrument, and it's pretty much the only one that Chumbris (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, a variety of keyboards, lap and pedal steels, drum machines and percussion) doesn't play on the album. And the way the pair's voices coexist may make you think of Richard and Linda Thompson or Exene Cervenka and John Doe. Maybe even, depending how deep your record collection runs, The Reivers' Kim Longacre and John Croslin. Is it pop or rock or roots or folk? Who the hell knows? It's whatever you call the sound of two people who appear to have been bio-engineered to make music together and are doing so at the top of their game.