What a precious bird of an album Tenement & Temple is. On first listen it feels delicate and frail but scratch below the surface and you’ll find a collection of haunting, sparsely produced songs that will slowly dig away at your emotions until you submit to its life-experienced, frost-hardened centre.
Tenement & Temple is song writing duo Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie from Glasgow, if those names sound slightly familiar it’s because they made up fifty percent of indie band ‘Thrum’ who rubbed shoulders with the great and good of the early 90’s music scene.
This is a jump away from the guitars and drums of that genre, instead we’re in bluegrass, country and folk territory but the songs rely on clever music and beautifully sung melodies that stick in the mind long after the album is through.
The greatest compliment I can throw at this album is the songs seem to get better and better, a little like being at a live show, the album matures in its sound and confidence before we end on a haunting cover of Rodgers & Hart classic ‘Blue Moon’.
It’s testament to the production that each song conjures images of America’s wide expanse and will bring comparison to the music of Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and early 60’s Elvis Presley (particularly on ‘Ripa’ compete with wood percussion and soft backing vocals) but adds melancholy touches and moods that would seem right at home on a David Lynch soundtrack and you’ve got something close to what the duo have done.
It’s a fine debut and, with any luck, will act as a forerunner to plenty more things from this impressive duo.