"The slower tunes that start Storyhill have a clarity that's quite retro," notes the All Music Guide in regard to Storyhill's eponymously titled CD. May the day soon arrive when clarity is not considered retro! In the meantime, you can hear music that aims toward the limpid quality of classic folk-pop when Storyhill comes to
the Ark on Tuesday, December 1, in a double bill with blues-pop veteran Cliff Eberhardt. Storyhill sometimes covers Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia," and their harmonies may well bring to mind that duo's infectious sound.
The Storyhill duo of Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson got started as childhood friends in Bozeman, Montana. Their harmonies have the combination of accuracy and freedom that comes from long experience; Storyhill released its first album in 1991 as Chris & Johnny, moved to the Twin Cities, toured and recorded until 1997, broke up, reunited, and kept at it. Folk music is great like that--if you have something distinctive to say and keep pursuing it to a deeper level, you can keep yourself going at a low-budget level for years. After performing for more than fifteen years, Storyhill won the Kerrville New Folk Competition in 2007.
The slow numbers make the most of the duo's harmony singing. In these, Storyhill favors earnest relationship songs that could indeed have come from 1960s folk, but what sets them apart is their spareness and focus: the harmonies often grow in intensity as the lyric deepens over the course of a song. The basic sound is one that has been heard wherever there are coffeehouses, but it's done here with a level of passion that takes it beyond nostalgia. "Give Up the Ghost," a rendition of one of those post-breakup conversations where the caring still shows through, matches the strong emotions involved with increasingly unusual moves in its high harmony line.
The duo also sings faster pieces with more contemporary landscapes in the lyrics; "Ballad of Joe Snowboard" is a unique take on the biography of a slacker, shifting from the criticism he hears echoing in his head to his death in an accident on a mountain. Storyhill's economical sound is attractive even in romantic numbers that approach triteness; the duo forges four-to-the-beat rock settings with mostly acoustic instrumentation including drums and very light use of an acoustic or electric keyboard. Along with clarity, Storyhill can boast of another "retro" quality: simplicity.
[Originally published in December, 2009.]