You could be forgiven for thinking, upon first look, that the latest from Cambridge-by-way-of Burlington duo Avi & Celia recalls Christopher Guest’s folk-music farce A Mighty Wind — or more to the point, that film’s central figures, romantically challenged singers Mitch & Mickey. In campy Mentos: The Freshmaker! fashion, the album’s cover depicts the Burlington ex-pats leaping in front of a typically (comically?) down-home country scene: two big red barns, a clear blue sky and a big pile of dirt. That multi-instrumentalist Avi Salloway is brandishing a black Stratocaster only adds to the picture’s sniggle-inducing quality. But you know what they say about judging a book by its cover. Fans of immaculately crafted, rock-tinged blues-folk would do well to heed that adage.
The full-length Let It Rise begins where last year’s short-and-sweet debut Off the Floor left off. “Pipes” is a rolling blues-rock number. It relies a bit heavily on predictable — and occasionally overwrought — guitar riffs and structure, but vocalist Celia Woodsmith’s performance is powerful and believable. Her fractured, sultry wail exudes a depth of experience that belies her tender 23 years.
“Soul of the Tyrants” follows and is among the album’s strongest cuts. Woodsmith and Salloway’s vocal harmonies wind gorgeously around an Appalachian-inspired melody. Meanwhile, slow, somber tom hits march on in the background.
“Rollin’ & Tumblin,’” a traditional tune, does both, with Woodsmith’s chugging washboard laying the rhythm for Salloway’s blazing slide guitar.
In “Seven Years,” the duo pulls off a passable Gillian Welch/David Rawlings imitation. It’s not quite Time (The Revelator), but it’s not far off. It is in these quieter moments that Avi & Celia hit their stride. As on “Soul of the Tyrants,” their voices are impeccably matched. Stripped of electric-guitar bravado and forced blues-rock vocal snarl, the tune aches and lulls with dusty, heartland melancholia.
“Gnomes Time & Place Part 1” is an exercise in self-indulgence. Salloway delivers some fiery acoustic guitar pickin’, doubled by Woodsmith’s vocal scat. It’s an impressive display of chops on both counts — Berklee grads might dig it. But it gets old quickly. In fact, right around the time “Gnomes Time & Place Part 2” kicks in.
Six-and-a-half minutes later, the duo gets back to business and closes out the remainder of the disc in fine fashion — in particular, the cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” and rootsy album finale “Aged Pine.”
Avi & Celia celebrate the release of Let it Rise this Friday with a performance at Burlington’s FlynnSpace.