Sound — 9
Storyhill (Chris Cunningham and Johnny Hermanson) are an acoustic folk/pop duo who have been recording together since the early 90's. Their sound has attracted a very loyal following, especially out West and in the Upper Midwest, although their tours now spread all over the continental United States. Well into the second decade of their career together, they have opted finally in 2007 to make a self-titled album as their debut on Red House Records. The album is 11 tracks, all original. The hallmarks of Storyhill's sound are their tight vocal harmonies and artful guitar playing, the latter ranging from mellow fingerstyle to hard-and-heavy flatpicking and covering everything in between. Since Chris and Johnny still tour without a backup band, their songs are all written to be performed in stripped-down acoustic format. This keeps the aforementioned hallmarks front-and-center throughout the album and largely restricts backing instrumentation to subtle, tasteful decoration that allows the songs to stand on their own strength.
Lyrics — 8
Storyhill's lyrics are characterized by their literal clarity; listeners will find many many lyrical references to specific places, times, and people (both factual and fictional). They will be intimately acquainted with characters' lives and feelings in clear and unambiguous ways. This puts them in stark contrast with most modern neo-Dylan songwriters who prefer to use vague, metaphorical lyrics which only they themselves can decipher. The music and lyrics flow together with the ease one would expect from two experienced professionals of their caliber. Chris and Johnny have always been great singers. Their voices still blend as well as they did in 1994, when a listener could hardly tell the two apart. Now, after many years together (and a few apart in the middle), each has developed his own unique voice and singing style without harming the smooth harmonies they create together in the slightest.
Overall Impression — 9
The album is littered with tracks destined to become Storyhill classics. The first track, "Give Up The Ghost", is a lyrically rich ballad which manages to create lovely vocal harmony without clouding a strong, sweeping melody. It is a gutsy move to open with a ballad, and they pull it off with ease. A few other bright spots include the poignant but lively "Paradise Lost", the insightful and somtimes humorous second-person story of "Joe Snowboarder", and the infectiously catchy bass line of "Blazing Out of Sight". There are, admittedly, a few relative low points on this one. Songs like "Happy Man" and "Love Will Find You", while perfectly good songs in their own right, sound somewhat forgettable when set against the standard of depth and sophistication the duo have set for themselves over their years of writing and recording. This is nitpicking, though. There is nothing earth-shattering or gorundbreaking about Storyhill's Red House debut. They're not reinventing the wheel, or even reinventing themselves. Their latest effort is nothing more (but certainly nothing less) than two top-notch musical professionals taking the next step down their creative road. The whole is thouroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, unique and fresh while remaining firmly rooted in singer/songwriter tradition.