Among the most surprising aspects of the press release to accompany news of Low’s latest album The Invisible Way is that this is now the 20th anniversary of the band.
Centred around husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker they have been fine tuning their brand of so-called slow core rock across ten albums now. But arguably it was not until their 18th year with 2011’s C’mon where they hit their stride. They’ve always expertly combined epic and tender music but on C’mon the tenderness shone through more than ever as they created their first truly great American album.
The Invisible Way takes that haunting, tender ethos of C’mon one step further. Gone are the overt ’50s and ’60s electric guitar sounds to be replaced with piano, acoustic guitar and an even softer Americana feel under the direction of producer, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
The result is simple and beautiful. Sparkhawk explains that it was a visit to Wilco’s Chicago studio that convinced them to adopt this sound. “They (Wilco) had invited us to come check it out several times over the years, but this would finally be the day…What really converted us was hearing the new Mavis Staples tracks they were working on – big, simple, raw and intimate. Plans were made then and there.”
Another key difference is that Parker sings lead vocals on five of the 11 tracks, compared to one or two on previous releases. It’s a smart move with her softer vocals proving a perfect fit for the album’s back to basics approach.
This is particularly the case on the piano heavy So Blue. Her vocals are just so perfectly understated and never showy. The acoustic guitar backed Holy Ghost is another excellent Parker vocal track; haunting, mournful and passionate, like the image of a widow on the porch of a frontier shack it conjures up. The same can be said of her vocals on Just Make It Stop, another stellar track on the album.
But not to be outdone Sparkhawk’s vocals turns are just as sublime, with Tweedy bringing out the passion in his delivery well, particularly on the track Clarence White.
Their combined vocals, most notably on the sumptuous track Amethyst, also shine brighter than ever under Tweedy’s direction.
C’mon was one of our top albums of 2011 and at the time I wondered how they could possibly better it. Turns out stripping back their sound even further into the mists of Americana was the answer. Another beautiful album from one of America’s most engaging acts.
by Joe Lepper