On their fourth album, Canadian couple Pharis and Jason Romero make an instant connection by way of their homespun harmonies and homilies. It's an earnest approach that resonates with a sense of confidence and conviction. As their first set comprised of all original material, "Sweet Old Religion" is suitably titled, given that the songs were written and recorded in the wake of a fire that destroyed their home and then forced them to rebuild with the help of their local community. Indeed, the experience not only fuelled their faith but provided them with additional inspiration.
Not that the pair weren't proficient before; winners of a Juno - the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy - the Romeros are known for their purity of purpose and a vintage sound that blends folk, roots, blues and country, without bowing to any singular style. Songs such as "Come On Love," "Age Old Dream," "You Are a Shining Light" and "You Are the Best Thing" are as strikingly sincere as the titles suggest, and the combination of Pharis' angelic vocals and Jason's instrumental agility radiates throughout. Fiddle, pedal steel, mandolin, baritone guitar, bass and drums augment the arrangements, but there's never a sense that they've had to compensate by adding any unnecessary additives. The melodies are rich and resolute, without sacrificing their simplicity in the process.
As a result, "Sweet Old Religion" is best recommended for those who tend to favor a more traditional tapestry without the commercial come-ons that often tend to taint an intent. Simply put, it's a wonderful record, not only as a result of the immaculate execution, but also because the Romeros make it clear that they sing from the souls. If honesty and enthusiasm seem in short supply these days, the Romeros help us realize just how much those attributes are ultimately missed.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.