LIVE: Long Journey @ the Beer Diviner, 8/11/17
Review by Joel Patterson
“This is just like a speakeasy!” Karl Mullen exclaimed. He’s one half of the powerful acoustic duo Long Journey, and we are here in what’s turning into a rainy night, but it hardly matters, spirits are high, and he’s absolutely right – the milling crowd, the humming of friendly chatter – the evening air itself seems juiced up at this roadside taproom, just a few turns up a winding road off Route 22 in Petersburgh. The Beer Diviner…
I don’t think either of us are old enough to have authentically sampled 1920’s speakeasy culture – but there’s definitely an enveloping sense of easygoing casualness afoot, maybe even mischief. Or the improvisational nature of it all – we’re wandering around in a series of interlocking porches. The “bar” porch has thick slabs of hardwood propped up on benches for a bar, like you see – finished to a sheen but fresh from the lumber mill.
The other half of the remarkable duo, Amrita Lash, sweeps in and asks me if she could borrow a barstool, for out on the real porch, where under a pinkish/reddish light later they will soar through a set of bewitching, entrancing songs – a sampling of old-time spare Appalachian numbers and originals that have the same sharply focused, sweet, hopeful, hopeless sadness.
The unit of the two of them is astonishing, I don’t want to understate this: these are seasoned, confident performers doing a mesmerizing thing exceptionally well. They create the entire world with just one guitar and two voices. Partly because, as I said, they’re powerful – they step into a space where the most natural thing in the world is to bare your soul and bellow with fire and fury. Karl’s voice is lusty, impeccable, booming and tinted with a brogue of some kind. Amrita has an almost effortless, luminous, swaying soprano – and keep in mind they are both singing at all times, bobbing and weaving through the melodies.
And they sustain this same level of intensity except when they’re ratcheting it up for something especially emotional – like the ballad about dying of cancer. There were times when I thought an unseen, distant train whistle or an offstage musician playing a synth was joining in, but, no, it was Amrita, riding out a long, lonesome note, giving voice to things that can’t be said.
Now it really is raining! Every so often a pop-up tent will spew waterfalls over its edges, dogs prowl through the chairs. Karl tells of being bored one night, so he looked up
the “20 most popular chord changes.” He picked one, and now he has us all joining in eagerly to sing along with his lovable little pop song, the whole crowd roaring into the pitch black night.
Sure, there’s a formula at work here: 1) rock-solid sounding acoustic guitar riffs, with a dash of spicy embellishment, 2) two interlocking, indivisible voices, 3) a landscape of pure feeling and timeless explorations into matters of the heart. Just exactly like there are formulas for every brilliant concoction the mind of man has ever devised – you call this alchemy, the blending of ingredients in just the right proportions. Done right, it is what it is: magic.