There’s a certain promise that comes from duos working within limitations. And it’s even more promising still if it comes from a man and a woman — i.e., Diamanda Galas & John Paul Jones; Jack & Meg; adult.; hell, even the UK’s Prinzorn Dance School’s minimal still-born blues rants have a certain conversational charm.
For those in the dark, Jim White’s the drummer for Dirty Three and, thus, knows a thing or two about working within limitations; for instance, he puts tambourines on his drums and pulls all kinds of percussion tricks out of his hat to make D3’s violin-and-guitar sea shanties the sweeping epics they are. Nina Nastasia is a more hushed, intimate type of singer-songwriter. But the opposites here not only attract, but the results are exponential. You Follow Me plays somewhat like the White Stripes from an inverse universe, where subtle changes — an extra snare-hit here, an aboutface beat there — give the songs an immediacy and room to grow … which they do. The two play off each other in a way that can recall Public Image Limited’s drums-voice landmark, Flowers of Romance, with its kinetic energy, as it also conjures the still-scabbing wounded quality of PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love or Lucinda Williams’ Essence.
The track “Our Discussion” starts out majestically enough, spotlighting Nastasia’s spare chords and soft declaration, only to soon gently jibe with White’s shifting drum punctuations and gentle fills, which increasingly push her otherwise no-frills song into a lower-case musical epiphany. The interplay is simple but profound — jazz-like but never reckless or flashy. It is, in a word, intimate. And that’s where You Follow Me really succeeds. It’s impossibly tight and refined … but still free, the usually finite terrain of sighing singer-songwriter fare given a sense of completeness without just limiting it. Folk with a beat, this ain’t. Neither is it “jazzy country.” It’s simply just great.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.