Gwyneth & Monko – Gwyneth & Monko
2011, Gwyneth & Monko
Gwyneth Moreland and Michael Monko return this week with their first full-length album, Gwyneth & Monko. The follow-up to last summer’s Good Ol’ Horse EP reflects a somewhat darker aspect to the duo’s music, a blend of the sharp Americana style they’ve displayed in the past and a slightly more serious approach as songwriters that has developed over the past year on the road together.
Gwyneth & Monko opens with “Found In Benson”, a simultaneously joyful and melancholy piece that manages to be repetitive and mundane. The juxtaposition of moods is the most intriguing part in what is arguably a weak opening track. “Consumption” is a prairie ballad about tuberculosis and the lives it stole or left broken in one family. Mournful and dark, this is an example of Moreland’s finesse as a lyricist and is among the best song craft on the album. “Hand In The Fire” is fairly average for songwriting, but shows off the distinctive nature and beauty of Moreland’s voice in perfect relief.
Gwyneth & Monko go for a vaguely bluesy blend of Appalachian folk and gospel on “Blood Of The Lamb”, capturing a musical moment that is memorable both for the song for the haunting beauty of Moreland’s vocal. “Summer Bliss” and “Get In The Sun” are bland and forgettable, although the latter finds Moreland sounding a bit like a young Stevie Nicks (although with better enunciation). “The Raven” takes off on the Edgar Allan Poe tale in a Cowboy Junkies-style arrangement. The sound is nice, but doesn’t necessarily work here. Margo Timmons has an amazing voice, but Moreland is a different kind of vocalist, and this low energy approach just doesn’t work here.
“Eloise” is a song of heartbreak; written from the perspective of a man who has been forsaken by the only one he ever loved. The lyrics and arrangement are solid, but the vocal makes the song stand up and walk. “Can’t Stay Long” is in the same class as “Blood Of The Lamb”, blending great energy with a plus arrangement and a standout vocal line. “Song Of The Robin Redbreast” is aesthetic and sweet, and leads into a wax cylinder recording of “Pine Box Sailor”. This last seems more an exercise than anything else, experimentation in sound. While the recording is messy, it’s inarguable that Moreland, in particular, sounds right at home. The wax recording brings out some of the qualities in her voice you might hear in a live setting, and gives you an idea of how good she really is.
Gwyneth & Monko show flashes of the energy and panache that made their debut EP, Good ‘Ol Horse, such a pleasure to find, but Gwyneth & Monko fails to live up to the resultant expectations. There are a couple of examples of what the duo is capable of as songwriters, but as a whole the songwriting is somewhat lackluster. The effort is saved again and again by the voice of Gwyneth Moreland. She is one of those vocalists who can make a bad song listenable and a good song great. Moreland gives life to several songs on Gwyneth & Monko that are otherwise mundane. Michael Monko is steady at helm on the instrumental side, providing solid arrangements for Moreland to play against, but the sense of inspiration the duo have showed previously just never quite establishes itself here. Gwyneth & Monk have grown as songwriters, and that’s always a positive. If they can keep that growth and re-infuse some of the energy they’ve shown previously they’re going to do great things.
Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)