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REVIEW: Two Ways Home – ‘Closest Stranger’ EP (Available June 2nd)

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First of all, let’s agree to make Two Ways Home the next Shires.

Exhibit C, following two EPs released back in 2015, is the four-track EP Closest Stranger. All four tuned have been written over the last year with songwriters of excellent pedigree, and the voices that sing them are in fine form.

Before we begin to describe what these voices and the songs sound like, kudos goes to the production team. The EP was mixed and mastered over in Nashville this spring, which accounts for the delay in its route to market; the band had told Your Life in a Song that the EP was coming by the end of 2016. It was worth the extra months: every guitar sound pops; every drum pattern splashes satisfyingly; and the balance between the vocals – sweet and high from Izzy, resonant and lower but not too low from Lewis – is excellent.

The four songs themselves are worthy of inclusion on any top Nashville recording artist’s new album. Scanning the other male-female vocal duos in Nashville, Izzy and Lewis are up there with Striking Matches, Sugarland and The Exes (who are fictional, but they all count!). A few UK acts, not least The Shires, have looked towards Charles and Hilary (that makes them sound like a royal couple…) from Lady Antebellum, and Izzy and Lewis are no exception.

They have voices that blend perfectly. Who could have known that two people, one from Austria and one from Gloucestershire (they rhyme…sort of), could end up meeting and making such pulchritudinous tunes?

The pair have spoken in interviews of their love for Phil Vassar and Brothers Osborne, two acts who do their thing regardless of acclaim from the mainstream or the industry, though both have had that for sure. I would kindly suggest that the next time Lucie Silvas or her husband, who is one Osborne Brother, come over to the UK, they book Two Ways Home as an opener.

And so to the music.

The middle eight of the title track is the best moment on an EP full of great moments. It takes the tune in a completely different direction, making the track the pick of a 9/10-at-least bunch. From the opening drum fill to the final ring, this song is a pearl. ‘A life built on a lie is a life I can’t regret’ is a fun lyric, followed by one about growing up by ‘running from your past’.

A close stranger, be it someone you don’t know or someone pretending to be someone else, is an interesting concept. Perhaps the protagonist just wants a person beside them, be they lonely or desperate or apathetic. The song was written with Demi Marriner, and I’d love to get a full analysis from the songwriters.

It gets better on every listen, and I only missed its power first time round because I chose to go back to Best Part of Me. That one, in the buoyant key of G-flat, plays with the number of beats in a bar at the start. I love how it nods to Izzy’s Austrian heritage with a guitar part that sounds like a harpsichord, before Lewis comes in with a confident delivery. Izzy’s entry rhymes ‘build up defences’ with ‘battle commences’.

The chorus is of Shires-type singalongability: ‘I’ll go through the hard part with you/ Knowing in my heart there’s nothing to lose’. It’s about love and stuff, always a winning topic in country music, which the pair fell into after the rest of their band left to pursue other things.

Don’t Give Up on Me Tonight is a tender ballad (is there any other kind of ballad?) written with Logan Brill. The pre-chorus, with a magical D-major chord (chord II in the key of C) sets up a majestic chorus (there are definitely non-majestic choruses in country music!), which has a post-chorus to die for, like a cherry on a cupcake. Sorry to get technical, but the structure of this song demands to be pointed out; it’s like building a sandcastle of sound. Carrie Underwood should hear it, cover it, and help Two Ways Home buy a house. It includes the best use of the word ‘darling’ since Paul McCartney on Abbey Road in 1969.

Push and Pull, with its ‘my heart, my beating heart’ refrain and Mumford beat, is breezy in spite of its lyrical message: ‘You make a sinner feel a fool…silent but still around.’

As part of my Country Way of Life project I spoke to the guys for the Dust Bowl Disc podcast, which you can hear at Mixcloud.com/Blastocast, from June 2, the day of the EP’s release. Please listen to it. The EP, I mean, not the podcast (although…) Then tell other people to listen to it. Then watch as your early adoption of Two Ways Home turns into pride and admiration for two beacons of light in a luminescent UK country scene.

Two Ways Home host The Round Up, a night for country songwriting, at Gail’s Kitchen in London on June 8, with guests Longfellow, Amy Westney and Megan O’Neill. They play Vauxhall Arches on June 17 as the musical act at the inaugural Buck N Bull event.

Jonny Brick

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