Originally published in The Declaration November 2016
Charlottesville-based folk duo Lowland Hum has performance down to a science. The husband and wife team of Daniel and Lauren Goans took the Jefferson stage this Friday night, opening for perennial Virginia favorites Carbon Leaf.
The songs are soft and unassuming, covering familiar folk ground with acoustic guitar picking and lilting harmony vocals, but the two have constructed a live show which highlights their strengths. They’re literary, melodically solid, and undeniably charming.
At the beginning of the set, Lowland Hum handed out small, bound lyric books for the audience to follow along with, hymnal-style. It’s an ingenious move which shows how seriously they take their songwriting.
Even with a book, the show feels like the tip of a narrative iceberg. You might catch a glimpse of an interesting character, setting, or image in a song, but not have time to figure out just what it’s all about.
The pair’s own story is short, to hear Daniel tell it. They met, they married, they formed a band, they’ve been performing ever since. He explained this in a ten-second summary, since, after all, “many people come to a concert to hear music.”
The sound is well-crafted, in terms of composition as well as stage setup. The two stand atop wooden platforms, custom-made for them by a furniture builder for percussive stomps (a unique kick-drum-meets-cajón effect). The arrangements are simple; Daniel plays guitar, Lauren plays a snare drum with a mallet or bundle of sticks, and the two switch off lead and harmony vocals.
“Who has a soul that’s not fainting? / Who has a soul that’s not faint? Use your voice, use your voice,” they sang on “Four Sisters pt. 1”, the first song of the evening. This quiet but stirring refrain is a memorable hook which firmly grounds the story.
Part of what makes Lowland Hum’s performance so solid is the free-flowing energy behind it; I doubt any two sets are quite the same. Between songs Daniel would launch into improvised ditties to tell the audience of thoughts that occurred to him (don’t watch your lyric book too closely!).
They covered “In the Garage” by Weezer in their signature style, effortlessly channeling the warmth and charm of the original.
Carbon Leaf began their set with “Miss Hollywood,” a 2009 single which showcases the group’s penchant for listenable folk-rock and catchy pop sing-along choruses. Their sound, as well as the light show that comes with it, felt almost too big for The Jefferson.
“It’s going to be a weird night,” lead singer Barry Privett said, before the band began a partial cover of “Sloop John B.”
And it was, and it wasn’t—that a decades-old indie band like Carbon Leaf is as vital as ever, and that they brought the kind of fun you can only achieve when your lead singer switches from tambourine, to shakers, to tin whistles of various sizes.
Carbon Leaf is at their best when their Celtic-influence is on display, with Privett on the whistle and lead guitarist Carter Gravatt picking lightning fast licks with the timbre of a fiddle. “The Boxer,” off their 2001 record “Echo Echo,” was a standout in this category.
“I feel like I should give you a choice,” Privett said. We could continue playing songs from our 23 year catalogue, or we could stop, and have a nice discourse about […] American politics.” For the audience, it was an easy choice.
The Dec does not advocate drinking to forget the election until after the 8th. But if, at that time, you feel the need, Carbon Leaf is a strong soundtrack choice.