Many dark and twisted tales of love and revenge have been told throughout history. From Johnny Cash’s “Banks of Ohio” and “Delilah’s Gone” to Vicki Lawrence’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and such modern classics as Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls,” Old Crow Medicine Show’s “My Good Gal” and The Steeldrivers’ “If It Hadn’t Been for Love,” the murderous subgenre is stamped with cruel intentions and unquenchable blood thirst. While no one is axed in 5j Barrow‘s swampy “Sarah Brown,” a foot-stopming blend of Delta Blues and brittle folk storytelling, the narrative is riddled with chilling sorrow.
Band members Eryn Murman and Jason Hite, former Broadway performers, have a natural flair for the dramatic, and that grandeur serves them well. Hite’s cracked baritone snarls around a traumatic narrative of one young woman’s pursuit to fall in love. “Children gather ’round and let me tell you a tale of the lonely Sarah Brown,” they stage with striking calm before braying yelps slither out between hisses of banjo, guitar and percussion. “Sarah traveled on through the rain and the snow / To find a love that she could call her own / That would never let her bed grow cold,” the story unfolds, the duo’s ghoulish harmonies sliding down into the brain. “Stay with her even when she’s old / A love that would surpass all of the stories she’d been told.”
Sarah Brown stumbles upon a man who “took her hopes and dreams and bundled them up inside his hands / That held her, and kissed her, made a body feel right / And made love all through the night to lonely little Sarah Brown.” As the song reaches a fevered pitch, so does Hite and Murman’s vehement vocal wallops ⎯⎯ ripping and tearing when Brown’s heart shatters on the cold, hard ground. “They married on a Sunday / Had a baby on a Friday / He left her on a Tuesday / And she cried / Oh, she cried…”
“Sarah Brown” is lifted from the duo’s latest release, The Journey, Vol. 1, an EP of balladeering, gutsy rhythms and graceful reflections of heartache and adoration. “The feeling is difficult to describe / I swear it’s a sound I’ll hear when I die / Or least it’s what I hope it’ll truly feel like / The air into my nostrils,” Murman bristles on “Lullaby.” Hite nonchalantly but sweetly wears his heart on his sleeve with “Seagreen Dress,” the airy opener. “Let me pull you closer to me / As we waltz the room so everyone can see your seagreen dress,” he sings, painting the romance on thick. “Not the heart outside my chest / Oh baby it’s too soon to let them know / That my heart would stay with you if my body chose to go.”
Produced by David Mayfield, The Journey is the first in a three-part series of EPs. 5j Barrow (named for their apartment #5j on Barrow Street in New York City) draw discernible influence from The Civil Wars, The Lone Bellow and Avett Brothers but cruise along with their own unassailable stylistic earmarks. “You got me on the edge of my seat / Can’t wait to see you got buried underneath ya / Waiter don’t go spoiling it please / The cruel anticipation is oh so sweet,” the pair careen about their veneration and desire for each other. The melodic and production choices are often beguiling and tease substantial depth. With “New Begin,” they seek renewal, whispering, “Tell the keeper of the lighthouse / Keep your lamp lit bright for me / My boat is lost adrift at sea and there’s no one to man the wheel.”
The Journey‘s songs might often bleed together ⎯⎯ but the raw intent and deeply-buried emotion surges to the surface. Murman and Hite are on to something truly special.
Grade: 3 out of 5
Photo Credit: Isaac James