Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin
Phil Barry and Sarah Fuerst’s collaboration under the name Thunderbolt and Lightfoot marks a next natural step for these two respected figures on the Midwestern indie and folk scene. The confluence of their talents, first exhibited on their self-titled debut EP, takes the main stage here with a full length studio album and it certainly smacks of much more than regional desires. These are one of those rare working partnerships where one performer truly inspires and prods the other to heights they might not have reached on their own otherwise. Songs for Mixed Company is a ten song collection that certainly embraces its folk roots, but there are dashes of something truly different in many of the performances that set it apart from typical efforts in this style. There’s no question, however, that the album’s songwriting is suffused with the spirit of genuine poetry and that glows extends to many of the musical arrangements as well.
“Let’s Be Friends” definitely doesn’t communicate the promise of that. This is a subtle lyrical narrative where two now former lovers, each still reeling from their split, make uncomfortable promises they aren’t sure they can ever honor. Barry and Fuerst’s vocals don’t flawlessly connect and that’s a part of their appeal as it brings an added quality of emotion to the performance. They try on some of the trappings of classic country with the song “Miss Me”, but it’s another sly bit of songwriting as well. Beneath the song’s seemingly playful lyrics lurks a tremendous sea of longing and a little regret and the musical qualities of the piece help bring those moods into even sharper relief. We get more evidence of their songwriting talents with “Can’t Be Trusted”, nut their interpretative potential is clear too as Barry completely inhabits the less than reputable character at the heart of the song.
“Year of the Monkey” is one of the most solid cuts on Songs for Mixed Company and shows off how well the band brings an assortment of Americana sounds into their artistic vision and finds the right balance. There’s some raunchy lead guitar in the song’s second half and the overall bluesy influence casting a shadow over the song is impossible to ignore. The unassuming and easy going saunter struck by “Sweetest Baby” is one of the album’s more relaxed musical peaks, but the song asks more than it lets on and there’s a definite vein of melancholy running just below its surface. They choose an unlikely cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ode to desire, “I’m on Fire”, from his 1984 Born in the USA album. It isn’t the first time this song has been covered, far from it, but what doesn’t seem to initially be a good fit for the duo soon proves to be ideal for their purposes. “Dearly Beloved” leaves the album basking in a little sunlight without revisiting the depths it reaches on earlier songs and the humor in the writing is played very well by both singers, particularly Barry. It ends Songs for Mixed Company on the upswing rather than mired in its own misery/Amy fan of Americana and modern folk will consider this album essential.