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The narrow line between tranquility and brilliance


The cover of 'Narrow Line' by Mama's Broke

The cover of 'Narrow Line' by Mama's Broke

The cover of 'Narrow Line' by Mama's Broke


Whether it’s hard rock, country or Americana the sound of two or more human voices perfectly pitched against each other, in harmonised unity, acting as one, is to me one of the most perfect sounds to be found anywhere within the wonderful thing that is world music.

Some acts fully embrace the fact the human voice is an instrument and is there to be exploited and enhanced in the same way that a physical music instrument is.

One such act that has an absolute command of the power of harmonised vocals, is Canadian duo, Mama’s Broke, composed of Amy Lou Keeler and Lisa Maria. Their willingness to embrace and exploit the power or harmony vocals is exemplified on their excellent album, ‘Narrow Line’.

The two multi-instrumentalists are joined by some fabulous guest musicians on the album including: Andrew Horton (upright bass on ‘How it Ends’ and ‘Just Pick One’; Joe Grass (dobro on ‘Just Pick One’) and Pierre Alexandre-Maranda (upright bass on ‘Narrow Line’).

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While nestled under the folk tag there is far more to the duo’s music and songs than any one label could do justice to. Having spent the last eight years ‘in a near constant state of transience, pounding the transatlantic tour trail’ the duo brought their fiery ‘folk-without-borders’ sound to a variety of settings, including Ireland and Indonesia, and gained some absorbing influences along the way.

‘Narrow Line’ bears all the hallmarks of a duo who know exactly what their strengths are and utilise them to perfection. It’s peppered with a myriad of influences but displays a fluidity and looseness that is mesmerising.

‘Just Pick One’ begins with a fabulous picked guitar pattern offset by some intermittent banjo. However, it’s the vocals that really grab the attention because they are truly exquisite.  The two artists’ voices are so perfectly matched and the harmonies so perfect that at first it actually sounds like one vocalist.

‘Oh Sun / Pale Night / Forgetting Reel’ is one of the most impressive folk-country songs you will likely hear all year.

Beginning with just solitary vocal lines, the way the two artists swop the lead lines is fantastic and the way the last word of one vocal line begins the next line is an exemplary arrangement. There is a bluesy quality to the vocals that is wonderful and while the vocals display subtle country blues qualities, when the music kicks in the song takes the listener off on a more traditional folk direction albeit based around the melody of the vocals. Fans of Irish trad, country and blues will find this track very appealing.

‘Between the Briar & The Rose’ is essentially a mid-tempo folk ballad but with a wonderful, solitary vibe. The fiddle lines are fantastic and the overall arrangement is wonderful. 

‘How It Ends’ is as down home as a hoolie in Kentucky or a session in Wexford. It has the perfect blend of folk and country and if there was such a thing as a definitive example of Americana and everything it encapsulates then, perhaps, this track would fit the bill.

The album title track, ‘Narrow Line’, is a downbeat lament with some fabulous lyrics: ‘The water’s rising, what doesn’t burn will drown’.

There is a common feel to a lot of the tracks and it’s something that threads the songs together. 

‘October’s Lament’ is the perfect showcase for the vocal prowess of the duo. The bulk of the intro is sung acapella and is low key and thought-provoking, however, when the music kicks in it’s much more frenetic and frenzied. It’s folky but with a distinct Eastern flavour too.

‘God’s Little Boy’ is stunning and boasts an absolutely fantastic acoustic guitar sound in the accompaniment. It displays wonderful depth and is lovely and warm. The song features fabulous instrumental patterns and in many ways showcases many of the weapons in the overall Mama’s Broke arsenal.

‘The Wreckage Done’ bears a slight similarity to ‘The Foggy Dew’ in the intro but when it gets going it features stunning fiddle, guitar and banjo patterns.

‘The Ones That I Love’ takes things down a notch and features some of the most impressive harmonised vocals you are ever likely to hear.  There is no accompaniment, but then, when vocals are this good nothing else is needed; this truly is a stunning vocal performance. The album closes out with a wonderful country-blues folk track called ‘Windows’.

The accompaniment is sparse; for the most part it’s just an acoustic guitar behind the singing with additional fiddle and banjo linking the vocal sections. Music should bring you to a place where you can get lost in your thoughts and in that regard Mama’s Broke offers up something truly special on ‘Narrow Line’

It’s an album you might not yet be aware of but once you hear it you won’t ever forget it.