Seeing Giorgos Xylouris and Jim White live, you're struck by their in-performance cues, which include slight nods or glances from smiling eyes that seem almost conspiratorial. Their visceral interplay and spirit is a highly rare, magical and mysterious one, and with Mother, their third consecutive collaboration with Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, they've dispatched another compelling set of clues.
Xylouris is part of a much-celebrated Cretan folk lineage, and as such, primarily plays lute and lyra and sings expressively in Greek. White is in the monstrous, instrumental Australian group, the Dirty Three, and remains one of the world's most dynamic, in-demand percussionists. When the two friends played a New York show some years ago, Picciotto attended and, like so many of us who've witnessed Xylouris White, couldn't contain his excitement.
He invited them to record at his Brooklyn studio and, by his accounting, is still sifting through hours and hours of material — some composed, most improvised — from those magical, initial sessions, and finding gold. As such, Mother is very much a product of this duo's trajectory and evolution as collaborators (they have toured the world tirelessly over the past four years), and yet also feels like its ground zero.
On their debut, 2014's Goats, Xylouris sang one song. Now, it's rare for him not to draw from traditional lyrics and poems and sing them compassionately. His voice is a true musical force and he wields it with emotion to sing heavy things (in Greek) like "I only gave love / To this false world / And my repayment was / If you have more, give me it," from "Only Love," their most rocking song to date. Such things are propelled by his deft playing, as he attacks even the most frenetic progressions with sensitivity.
For his part, White doesn't simply complement his partner. There are certainly instances where he accentuates and punctuates Xylouris, but there are many hypnotic explorations too, such as the surreal march of "Motorcycle Kondolies," or the brooding, suspenseful "Achilles Heel," where White decisively pushes a melody in a hauntingly strange direction.
In the best sense, Mother finds Xylouris White quietly questioning musical structure and expectations. They remain trailblazing outliers with a supernatural power to express themselves as one and, with a warmth and welcoming generosity of spirit, invite listeners to step up and out of their comfort zones. (Bella Union)