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  • 07/07/2017
    Thirsty Mind - South Hadley, MA
     
 

"Chris Elliott and Lisa Austin are a musical duo who are injecting new, irreverent elements into the established folk and singer-songwriter playing field via their smart and modern lyrical sensibilities. Meanwhile, their musical end hinges upon vocal melodies and harmonies, while the duo trades off licks on Chris’ guitar and Lisa’s bass, banjo and guitar, bringing their fun, original take on folk to Boston’s coffee houses, clubs and concert halls. Their shows are guaranteed to be a memorable experience."

"...Their shows are lively affairs. The Montague duo plays harmony-laced folk songs that have a tendency to be on the dark side... Remember that time Gillian Welch and Robyn Hitchcock collaborated? This is what that project should have sounded like."

"Dark and, at times, irreverent, Cradle And Crow, the latest project from Austin & Elliott challenges the listener with a modern approach through the dark heart of classic country and Appalachian ballads. A fascinating adventure!"

"Just two voices and an acoustic guitar, but the songs are impressive, particularly the mythic folk ballad "Blackwater Dam," which has a timeless quality difficult to achieve."

“Incorporates great musicianship with intelligent writing”

"Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter duo hits all the right chords with beautifully crafted tales of introspection and woe. Nicely harmonized vocals, reminiscent of Aimee Mann, compliment immaculately produced instrumentals. Featuring accomplished local musicians such as Duke Levine, these five songs come fully realized and are sure to please."

Lisa Austin and Chris Elliott couldn't be more suited for one another musically and their new 5-song sampler quantifies that statement. Both possess excellent singing voices and when they're combined, there's few duos that can touch them. On Truth That Hurts, Austin and Elliott have also made a bold move to enlist producer Lorne Entress to oversee the production while hiring guitarist Duke Levine and bassist Paul Kochanski to beef up the instrumentation. The result is an engaging five songs lush with musicality and poetic prose. The song "Liza Jane" could easily be nominated as "Song of the Year" at the next Boston Music Awards show with its superb lyrics and mesmerizing musical accompaniment.

"The first time I heard Austin and Elliott's song, "Hard Not to Fall in Love" off of their EP, Truth That Hurts, I knew I had come across something spectacular. It's a brilliant song, written by Chris Elliott, and delivered emotionally by Elliott and Lisa Austin. In a world where love songs can often be cliche or too gooey, Austin and Elliott went creatively beyond that and created a perfect love song. In this performance, the finger-picked guitar riff by Elliott is quite impressive and fills the role of most of the instrumentalism. There is some subtle slide guitar work during the bridge of the song, performed by the producer of this tune, Lorne Entress. The only other ingredients are the great vocals of Austin and Elliott. Elliott sings most of the tune, but Austin sings along on the bridge and in the hooks. This intimate approach isn't the only reason this tune works. The lyrics are a great. My favorite verse is, "It's hard not to watch the water shine. Everybody stares at the things that make them blind. And you're so bright from afar. Not to fall in love with you is hard. It's hard." The song appears to be about a couple trying not to fall in love, because their geographical departure from one another is eminent. Elliott sings, "It's hard not to hold on and believe, as fortune on the rail carries you away from me. Letting go is the hardest part." Austin and Elliott again sing together, "And not to fall in love with you is hard. It's hard." Austin and Elliott's, "Hard Not to Fall in Love," off their CD, Truth That Hurts, is a fantastic love song. If you're a fan of well-crafted, folky songs with great lyrics and an intimate delivery, this song will be your absolute favorite."

 

"There are no lush strings or complicated arrangements on offer here. These are songwriters with a love of words expressing emotions - personal or otherwise - to the pure accompaniment of guitar.

"When I Go" is a case in point. It has a spare accompaniment, but even that could be superfluous when the listener gives attention to the harmony of these voices and the strong lyrics. The magic continues on tracks like "O Death," with its haunting theme and delivery. It could be a rendition of a song written centuries ago. The guitar takes off at a stronger pace on "Caroline," an old-style story-song that is well worth a close listen.

Tracks with titles like "Still Water," "Truth That Hurts" and "Started with a Needle" give you an idea of the beautiful, laidback style of this wonderful duo, but show how to tackle all sorts of subjects with quiet determination and thoughtful lyrics. This is a fine collection of original material well written and thoughtfully performed.

"Not too long after packing 21 songs onto their first CD, 13 Songs Plus, it is no wonder that Chris Elliott and Lisa Austin cover four of those on this five-song EP. Why do it? For one thing, the previous CD, while hardly lo-fi, was very basic—two voices and guitar. From a folk standpoint it worked beautifully, but Chris Elliott's songwriting occasionally broke out of the folk mold, keying more on pop hooks and melody. The duo must have wondered what they could do with those more mainstream tunes. When producer Lorne Entress showed interest, the opportunity to record in a band setting was too good to pass up. Entress gathered Austin and Elliott plus himself, bassist Paul Kochanski and guitarist Duke Levine and headed into Thomas Eaton Recording and Busterland Recording to lay down a handful of tracks, thus Truth That Hurts.

That the title track was chosen as EP title is no surprise. There is something very fifties in the writing—the light shuffling 6/8 rhythm and the updated and less R&B Mickey & Sylvia approach, maybe—which is very pleasant to the ear. And while the bare-bones version is nice, this one, enhanced by both the percussion and production, is taken well out of the folk and into the pop genre.

The new arrangement of "Too Tired" borrows from mid-sixties Brit rockers, having a Gerry & the Pacemakers twelve string hook which is unmistakable. The solid beat drives everything to its logical conclusion. And the end? It's straight out of early Liverpool.

A step toward Americana follows, "Liza Jane" adding mandola and a bit of dobro to the mix. It works, but the real magic here is the song itself. A strange view of some sort of unrequited love (which the man accepts wholly), it sings of a family-not-a-family while the melody and tempo belie the dysfunction which must surely exist. I mean, it's a tragic head-nodder, if that makes sense.

The total surprise here is the one track not borrowed from 13 Songs Plus—"What a Woman Knows". Call it folk with attitude or acoustic metal, it has a Black Sabbath "Iron Man" chord progression beneath Lisa Austin's spot-on vocals. Austin and Elliott unplugged? Maybe. But it sure grows on you.

Everyone has a song which reflects him- or herself and "Hard Not To Fall In Love" is a classic example. A beautiful ballad, one cannot listen to it without thinking that Austin and Elliott are singing it from the heart and for each other, even though that may be far from the truth. Such is the magic of music, though, and this one plucks heart- as well as guitar strings.

Like 13 Songs Plus, Truth That Hurts shows great promise. It shows that Austin & Elliott are no one-genre musicians. It shows heart. It shows progress. One of the things some people love most about music is watching musicians morph into better musicians on an ongoing basis. This could be the beginning of a long ride. It will be fun watching (and listening).