Like many local acts, Burlington's folk-blues-rock-soul duo Avi & Celia came together while attending UVM. Since then, the two have played both small coffeehouse gigs and big-ticket concerts with their backing band, The Walkin' Line. Their debut disc, Off the Floor, brings together six spirited originals steeped in American musical tradition.
The majority of the album relies solely on the talents of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Avi Salloway and singer Celia Woods. The sound is perfectly homey, and showcases the duo's easy-going musicality. Guest instrumentalists such as bassists Aram Bedrosian, Wes Stannard and Mike Santosusso, drummer Paul Carroccio and fiddler/backing vocalist Katie Trautz add extra flavor to several of the cuts.
The disc's charm lies in its relative simplicity. Salloway avoids clutter while layering acoustic, electric, pedal steel and "noise guitar," while Woods foregoes vocal acrobatics in favor of broad melody lines. The result: a naturalistic-sounding romp through bluegrass, porch blues, country and rock.
Opener "Can't Feel It" emulates the broken-down blues the Stones trafficked in during their Beggar's Banquet days. They were, in turn, stealing from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, who might not be down with this line of musical succession. Lyrically, it's pretty light, but that's what you'd expect from a pair of youthful troubadours playing dress-up with the hard-luck hymns of yesteryear.
"Down to You" opens with a lonely slide guitar, which is soon joined by fervently strummed acoustic. The tune eventually picks up steam, as Woods and Salloway trade defiantly frisky vocals. However, things get a bit goofy near the end of the tune, as the overly emphatic singing approaches parody.
Bluegrass gets its due on "Bud N' Mary," a jaunty number featuring spry fiddle, while the title track features Salloway's rich baritone and harmony accompaniment from Woods on the chorus. "Mama, oh mama, you've been here before / Mama, oh mama, pick yourself off the floor," they gingerly sing.
The disc closes with the rockin' "Soak Her In." Backed by a full rhythm section, Salloway turns in a double-tracked vocal that's well matched by Woods' soulful wail. There are some slick lead guitar lines, but the song suffers from the same lack of imagination that marks much of today's blues-rock.
In spite of the occasional cliché and some indefensible culture cribbing, Off the Floor makes a fine introduction to Avi & Celia's pleasingly down-home sound.