Storyhill Shade of the Trees

Storyhill's second release on independent folk label Red House highlights the Midwestern duo's vocal harmonies with arrangements that are further pared down from those on their acclaimed 2007 self-titled release. Abstaining from the electric embellishments they toyed with last time out, Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson keep it simple with acoustic, fingerpicked accompaniment on songs that oscillate from despair to hopefulness and back again. Hermanson's startling, vibrato-heavy falsetto nicely complements Cunningham's grittier tenor, lending a beseeching quality to more melancholy numbers such as "Avalon" and "Better Angels." It's not just music to mope to though. The duo pick up the pace with the surprisingly lively "Well of Sorrow" and the countrified sass of "Town Talks." Hermanson and Cunningham's long history together ― the duo started playing music together in 1989 ― gives an air of quiet confidence to this well-crafted collection of acoustic folk. (Red House)