PHARIS & JASON ROMERO - A WANDERER I'LL STAY
At this point-- with the release of their third duo album, A Wanderer I’ll Stay--it's inevitable that Canadian roots duo Pharis and Jason Romero have been compared to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; the duo writes songs that are difficult to tell from traditional inspirations, and yet still sound fresh and thrillingly unknown. There is a quality to their music that sonically embodies some beautiful moment of mystery, and their songs wind their way into your heart as if they've belonged there always. This is why you'll feel you recognize every song on Pharis and Jason Romero's new album, even though they may be songs they've written themselves or sourced from rare field recordings. You'll recognize that familiar and phenomenal feeling - the embrace of a lifelong love and obsession - in their music.
Pharis and Jason Romero’s story is a classic. A matchmaker, some scratchy old records, a custom banjo and a fly fishing trip conspired to a meeting of the two in 2007. They married three months later, and moved lock, stock and banjo workshop to Pharis’ hometown of Horsefly, BC. When not performing, together they run the J. Romero Banjo Company, serving custom banjo clients around world including Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Martin Simpson. They play their own hand-crafted instruments or prewar acoustics on stage and on record, and the combination of these artisanal creations with their two voices is a rare and applauded one. The Romeros have released two critically acclaimed and award-winning records as a duo – A Passing Glimpse and Long Gone Out West Blues – and multiple releases as members of other bands. On this highly anticipated new recording, A Wanderer I’ll Stay, their voices once again meld as effortlessly as their instruments, coming together on an instinctual level that enlivens the mind and enraptures the heart.
Spending so much time immersed in folk traditions, both Pharis and Jason Romero have a wealth of knowledge to draw from. The Dying Soldier is a civil war-era ballad from banjoist Buell Kazee, It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie is from a 78rpm of old-time crooner Riley Puckett, Cocaine Blues was the first cocaine-related song recorded, and Goodbye Old Paint came from a 1942 Alan Lomax recording of Texas cowboy Jess Milton. But the real focus of A Wanderer I’ll Stay is on their original songs. The past year has seen Pharis writing some of her best and most varied songs: from a contentedly restless wanderer in the title track, a spurned-yet-hopeful lover in There’s No Companion, to the sad drive after leaving someone you once loved in Lonesome and I’m Going Back Home. Pharis and Jason also write striking songs together on this record, with New Lonesome Blues presenting as a vintage revival-feeling banjo tune with an impassioned pleading refrain, and they sing in duet to tell the life story of a local man who was eaten by a bear in Ballad of Old William.
Instrumentally, Pharis and Jason draw deep beauty out of the wordless subtlety of their playing. Jason’s sublimely beautiful banjo carries two of his original gourd banjo songs inspired by their one-year old daughter – Backstep Indi and Old September. His finger-picked guitar work (sounding more like flat picking) percusses and weaves over Pharis’ spaciously rock solid rhythm guitar.
A Wanderer I’ll Stay has that feeling of a record made with great intention. It was recorded in the Romero’s home banjo workshop in Horsefly by David Travers-Smith (The Wailin’ Jennys, Ruth Moody, Oh Susanna). Notably, it is the first of Pharis and Jason’s recordings to bring in other musicians: Josh Rabie, John Hurd and Brent Morton traveled to this remote part of BC to record fiddle, bass and drums, and Marc Jenkins’ pedal steel was layered on from a studio in Victoria, BC. Surrounded by old friends they arranged songs, ate food, and played music for joy’s sake when it wasn’t being recorded.
There is a similar feeling to be found in listening to Pharis and Jason Romero that one encounters when looking at an old photograph. It is as though their music taps into something larger than us, and reminds us of where we came from. However, the beauty and perfection of their music is not to be found only in the revival and connection to all that once was, but also in the sense of future potential and contemporary insight they offer. The Romeros have created musical offerings that both confirm the roots of music long past and point the way to where folk music is going today.
A WANDERER I'LL STAY TRACKLIST
1. A Wanderer I'll Stay
2. Ballad of Old Bill
3. There's No Companion
4. New Lonesome Blues
5. Lonesome and I'm Going Back Home
6. Backstep Indi
7. Goodbye Old Paint
8. It's A Sin To Tell A Lie
9. Poor Boy
10. Cocaine Blues
11. Old September
12. The Dying Soldier