The duo of Zoe Randell (voice, guitars) and Steve Hassett (voice, guitars, bass, flute) get some help here from The National man Aaron Dessner (production) and a long list of acoustic instrumentalists, but mostly, what’s on display is a minimalist, lullaby folk – like Peter, Paul & Mary reinvented for the hipster set.
Zoe Randell is yet another of those laconic-sounding female folk singers that are so populous at the moment, but she’s nowhere near as commanding as say, Tiny Ruins. With Hollie Fullbrook, there’s the sense that a world of complex emotions gurgles just beyond the calm architecture of her voice. Randell’s voice, on the other hand, while pleasantly free from unnecessary inflection, suggests a world of bland.
It’s not that the writing lacks arresting imagery, or that the music lacks for atmosphere. Rather, it’s the sense that behind all her lines about nature and the elements – naked bones of winter trees, etcetera – are conventional and rather dull ideas on longing and lust.
I’ve always been a sucker for plucked folk guitars and a well-contoured vocal approach, especially when those constituents are spiced with stately horns or aching strings, and they do that on a couple of occasions.
It’s just that the competition in contemporary rustic-sounding folk balladry is rather intense right now, and as enjoyable as Passerby is, it barely touches the sides. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5
Music = 3