By Lincoln Greenhaw
There is a tradition in folk music of heart-breakingly clear female voices, from June Carter Cash to Emmylou Harris to Australian folk songstresses the Waifs. Those voices always work best when highlighting the conflict between tradition and rebellion. Those voices, at their best, are like hearing angels getting drunk outside a church.
It’s to their credit then, that I can place the Fort Collins folk duo, Driftwood Fire, somewhere in that group of names without feeling dishonest. Lead singer Lynn Scharf and Charlotte Formichella, who handles harmonies and banjo, are very much worth your time.
Nevertheless, singing well-mannered songs in a sweet voice does have its pitfalls. The risk is that the music will sound palatable but harmless. So it makes sense that the duo’s new album, How to Untangle a Heartache, is at its best when it takes advantage of the darker aspects of the folk tradition.
Sweetness sounds twice as sweet when it’s in trouble, and track four, “Appalachian Hills,” an unblinking meditation on their Virginia roots, is all about trouble. Other standouts include “Grey Eyed Sunshine” and the final track, “The Salty Sea,” which will give even the most modern citizen warm feelings about the banjo.
It has been said many times that all music is folk music, passed from living room to bar room and back. But it is nice to be reminded that looking back past the self-absorbed behemoth of the “hip” moment will always be worth it.