Silver Lake 66 - the couple of Maria Francis and Jeff Overbo - make their sophomore effort so appealing because they stay close to traditional country idioms, recalling at times, some of those famous duets like Gram and Emmylou, George and Tammy, and, of more recent vintage, early Buddy and Julie Miller.
The Portland, Ore.-based couple alternate the lead vocals and harmonize with each other throughout, backed by a four-piece band and a three-piece horn and string sections on some cuts. Francis plays acoustic guitar and percussion while Overbo plays both acoustic and electric guitars. Yet, the sound remains pure and stays shy of overproduction, letting their strong songwriting breathe through nicely.
The autobiographical "Blue Earth County" kicks it off, with Overbo searching for some good news. His Telecaster brings the twang as he plays in that classic low-end note style, reminiscent of Buck Owens. Francis makes a stunning entrance with the title track. "Ragged Heart" as an answer of sort to Overbo's lament as she sings "you never told me life would be easy." Francis has a voice that is intriguingly inconsistent, in a good way. She can be sultry, raw, gentle, or just a bit off key, but somehow the unpolished nature of it works in her favor. Listen to "Faded Tattoo" for example, where she sings of hard times and homelessness without inducing pity. Instead, you get the sense that she'll make it.
"Check Out to Cash," the longest track at five minutes plus, reveals perhaps Overbo's best vocal, terrific harmonies between the couple, and the interplay of Overbo's Telecaster and Bryan Daste's on-the-mark pedal steel. This one truly captures the major aspects of the band's sound. Francis' lovely swoon carries "Hard Thing to Do." Overbo sings about a trapped relationship in "Like a River" while "Broken Dreams and Cigarettes" deals in shattered hopes and disappointment, both imbued by Daste's pedal steel.
Silver Lake 66 is a truly complimentary partnership with each feeding off the other's strengths. This is how honest country music should sound.