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“The Lost Brothers harmonies
are to die for, as near as a duo have got to the mastery of The Everlys
and The Louvin Brothers' tender close harmony singing that I've heard
anywhere near these shores." Richard Hawley
There is something special about two musicians in unison. Solo
artists bear the brunt of pretty much everything – be it success or
failure, joy or misery, it is all on their shoulders. Groups, meanwhile,
are mostly perceived as ideal examples of democracy, when the reality
is that they are governed by a benign dictator (if lucky) or a cruel
despot (if not). Duos, on the other hand, are clearly in tune (and
harmony) with themselves and each other.
As if proof were needed, take Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland as the
perfect example. Having had previous lives in major label rock acts
(respectively, The 747s and The Basement), the two Irish songwriters and
musicians first met in 2007 after their bands had slowly slipped off
the radar. “We both found ourselves at house parties in Liverpool,"
recalls Oisin, “and discovered that we had the same musical tastes. We
started writing songs together for fun – no strategies, no game plan."
The musicians' instinctive gravitational pull presented them with the
'Lost Brothers' tag, but the name quickly stuck. Indeed, as the songs
began to develop, the name started to make even more sense: the music
was knocking on doors looking for a home, while the delivery of the
songs was hushed to the point where you had to listen very carefully for
the beauty of (and melancholy in) them.
The past ten years of The Lost Brothers has disappeared in the blink
of an eyelid. Their 2008 debut album, Trails Of The Lonely, was produced
in Portland, Oregon, by Mike Coykendall.(collaborations include M Ward,
She & Him, Richmond Fontaine, Beth Orton, Bright Eyes), Coykendall
set The Lost Brothers on their singular path.
For every subsequent Lost Brothers' album (2011's So Long John Fante,
2012's The Passing Of The Night, 2014's New Songs Of Dawn And Dust),
attaining the “magic" has been key to its end result. Rehearsing songs
to within an inch of their lives prior to heading into a studio – and
making sure there are more than enough good ones – has also been
So it is with The Lost Brothers' fifth album, Halfway Towards A
Healing. Recorded in Tucson, Arizona, at the perfectly titled Dust and
Stone Studios (operated and owned by producer Gabriel Sullivan and
overseen by Giant Sand linchpin, Howe Gelb), the album is another step
on the right road.
Over twelve tracks, location and emotion are softly suggested. From
opening song, Echoes In The Wind, to closing spoken word track, The
Ballad Of A Lost Brother (via the instrumental cantina hymn, Reigns Of
Ruin, the fragile finger-picking beauty of More Than I Can Comprehend,
and the delicate strum of Nothing's Going To Change Me Now), the songs
reach out like fingers across a warm night to calm a troubled brow. The
lyrics match the intimate, tender moods.
'I called your name, I called your number. Through the rain,
through the thunder. Why turn away, from your man again', queries Oisin
(in More Than I Can Comprehend). Through these, and within other songs
of bruised heartache and brushed sentiments, there is a fraught sense of
people at the end of their tether. The lyrics are, agree Oisin and
Mark, much more direct than on previous albums.
“The songs that eventually make it onto our records are sometimes the
ones we write quickly," reveals Oisin. Take, More Than I Can
Comprehend, one of three songs co-written with Glen Hansard. “You can't
get more direct than that one," states Oisin. “We have had a tendency in
the past to be quite abstract with lyrics, but Glen suggested we go
straight for the jugular."
Another challenge and stimulus was Howe Gelb's production methods.
“He would pick us up in the morning," recounts Mark, “and take us out
into the desert. We'd walk for hours, then he'd drop us back at the
studio. We'd go through songs with studio engineer Gabriel Sullivan,
then Howe would meet us at the end of the day, listen to what we'd done
and work on the tracks. All those trips into the desert were to get the
environment into our system." Gelb himself calls the finished album, “a
stunning masterpiece… there shall be babies made throughout the darkened
planet via this music."
“Many of our albums have been quite desolate," admits Oisin, “but
this one has tiny slivers of hope. We've been challenged, and that has
made the songs richer. We have definitely polished the gloom a bit!
Weirdly, it's our most forward-thinking record."