Essential New Music: House And Land’s “Across The Field”

House And Land’s second album defies any notions of a sophomore jinx by topping its already impressive predecessor. The North Carolina duo of Sally Anne Morgan (voice, banjo, fiddle) and Sarah Louise (voice, guitar, woodwinds) started out with a determination to embroider their various contemporary concerns without compromising the spirit of their Appalachian folk material. If 2017’s self-titled debut proved you can reconcile songs fashioned before the advent of rural electrification with feminist and minimalist concepts, Across The Field shows that such material can be also be vehicle for a musician’s personal evolution.

Morgan’s an old pro at folk music—if you need a square-dance caller, she’s for hire—but her bowing alternately roughens and smoothens the textures while articulating bold melodical maneuvers around the vocal harmonies, which root the music in earlier times. Louise has evolved rapidly from her early guise as an acoustic guitarist and occasional singer working out of the American Primitive playbook to a flexible rocker, improviser and folk singer equally comfortable in plugged-in and voltage-free environments; these advancements are evident during the LP’s extended instrumental passages and expanded instrumentation. Instead of bridging past and present, House And Land lays the foundation for a great future on Across The Field.

—Bill Meyer