2018 has been a pretty good year for folk of all varieties, but most especially the kind of lonesome, wooded, solace-laden folk that speaks to shirking the trappings of modernity to let the forest become your next of kin. Alongside great records from Nathan Salsburg, Sarah Louise, and Daniel Bachman you can add the quiet magic of the eponymous debut from The Other Years. The duo has been playing together for almost a decade, but this collection marks their first album proper, though you’d never catch a whiff of debut over these forty minutes. Anna Krippenstapel and Heather Summers (Freakwater, Joan Shelley) feel like they’ve been a well-kept tradition from the moment the record starts. Its raw and somehow refined because of its rawness. The pair can’t help but evoke Appalachian sisters or cousins playing for family, not posterity, as the sun goes down and the hearth burns bright. There’s something evergreen that aches in the bones of The Other Years – a vision of what could have been, rather than what has become of us.
While there’s, naturally, a blush of NPR think piece woven into a record this rooted in homespun wistfulness and coal country familial forms, The Other Years doesn’t feel like a curio or Cohen Brothers set piece. Rather, the sparse backporch renditions seem to flow from the women’s respective traditions in earnest, aching solemnity. Their songs keep up the oral tradition because the technological one seems too prickly to last. From the moment that Krippenstapel’s banjo starts to pick, there’s a sense that simplicity isn’t a four-letter word, and that maybe letting the grass consume the concrete isn’t such a bad idea. It’s a gorgeous reminder to notice the small moments and breathe the sweet air while it lasts.
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