The second of two albums released from The Lowest Pair in 2016, Uneven as It Is Uncertain rests much more firmly in the camp of the duo’s existing string of releases than its counterpart Fern Girl and Ice Man does. There is no new instrumentation added to the duo’s sound and no experimental vocal approaches. Instead, Uncertain as It Is Uneven’s eleven tracks follow a well-worn musical path that their arrangements and soulfulness adorns with glittering acoustic textures from the banjo, guitar, and violin. Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee’s vocals wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a pop idol, but lack of talent isn’t the cause. The thing that sets these unusual voices apart from the pack is the unquestioned emotional currency of their voices – even in harmony work, Lee and Winter sound like performers who are reliving the experiences depicted in their songs.
The album begins on a pensive note with “The Company I Keep”. Guitar carries most of the song’s melody, but the vocal interplay between Winter and Lee is the key here. It’s the guiding musical principle behind these tracks – the creative relationship between Lee and Winter, on all of its levels, fuels the character of each song. There’s a largely folkie air surrounding the material and this holds true on the album’s second cut, “Keeweenaw Flower”. The crisp guitar playing is well recorded and the production achieves an enviable balance between the instruments and vocals. There isn’t as much direct duet work on this album as there is on Fern Girl and Ice Man, but the duo support each well throughout every song on this release. Banjo returns to the fore on “Like I Did Before” and weaves an appealing spell. These are musicians who approach these forms as vehicles of subtlety – there are no Hee Haw antics in these songs and the light touch they bring emphasizes melody over virtuosity.
“37 Tears” has an appropriately pensive air considering its title and Lee and Winter’s harmonizing reveals the same concern for probing, emotive performances that nevertheless conform to the song’s structure and musical mood. “The Sky Is Green” has much of the same gentle push distinguishing the preceding track and Lee’s banjo playing does an exemplary job weaving through the arrangement. Winter’s sensitive vocal never oversteps and drains every available drop of yearning in the lyric. There’s an added playfulness in the writing missing from many of the album’s songs. One of the album’s shortest songs, “Mason’s Trowel”, quickly revs up from a tentative bluegrass cut before transforming into a sleek, fleet-footed blast of banjo fueled songwriting. “Holy Buckets” is cut from the same cloth as many of the mid-tempo pieces on the album’s second half with a more memorable vocal and instrumental melody. The album’s concluding number, “By Then Where Will That Be”, is a quietly mounting track beginning from threadbare elements before evolving into a much more expansive arrangement. The last song, like so many before it, closely adheres to recognizable bluegrass elements while still carving out a distinctive voice of its own.
Uneven As It Is Uncertain is a well-arranged affair with a superbly ordered track listing and great lyrics. Palmer T. Lee and Kendl Winter are, in their own way, accomplished vocalists who are quite capable of entertaining a broad based audience and still maintaining a deliciously rustic edge.