Written by Ed Price, posted by Jason
Great songwriting partnerships are increasingly rare. More and more young artists seem to aim for the recognition that solo success brings and tethering their futures to the talents of another seems like it will only dilute their glory. Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown, however, are superb individual talents who realize their combined chemistry is much greater. Such instances are rare and require an unique confluence of personalities and skill. Often one is achieved without the other and those instances are near-misses that, invariably, don’t have staying power. Humphrey and McKeown, however, share an all-encompassing musical and emotional sympathy that comes through in each of the twelve songs on Tapestry of Shadows. Their fifth release brings some new musical faces into their fold and results in one of the most seamless “band efforts” yet from this duo, but their customary mix of traditional with the individual makes this a much more memorable effort.
You know you’ve struck something special just based on the opener alone. “Beautiful”, at first glance, might strike some as trite just based on title alone. It would be a hasty judgment. One of the abiding qualities of the duo’s music is how their songwriting continually upends listener’s expectations. “Beautiful” tackles familiar themes in popular song with an unusual poetic sensibility, yet it never overreaches and hits all the right reflective and exploratory notes. “Better Day”, the album’s second track, proves that the duo’s musical explorations have the same flexibility as their lyrical and vocal ones. The deep fried Southern feel they find here requires just the right amount of restraint from the players to pull it off and the duo, ably supported by their collaborators, pull it off with flying colors. They take a different tenor altogether on the third song “You Don’t Know Me”. This isn’t a cover of the longtime pop standard, but rather one of the duo’s best originals defined by a haunting vocal from McKeown that finds the emotional key to this early one and dovetails nicely with the arrangement. The arrangement hinges on the collaboration between piano and other instruments – it has a deeply emotional, melodic grace that many will love.
There’s a slight shuffle quality prevalent on the duo’s performance of “Someday” that peaks nicely on the chorus. It’s one of the album’s songs where the duo sings together with the best effect and they exhibit just the right amount of restraint. The lyrics, as well, are among the finest on the album and the duo finds just the right phrasing even working as duet. They hit another high point with the impressive “Sasha on the Carousel”. This is one of the album’s better lyrics thanks to its evocative imagery that, only occasionally, falls flat. When it works, however, it works so well that listeners are transported into the song’s point of view with little effort. The march tempo and assertive percussion heard in “Passing Shadows” sets it apart from much of the surrounding material but the differences in presentation are never so stark that the track seems incongruous placed against the remainder of the album. Tapestry of Shadows succeeds for many reasons, but artistry is chief among them and that quality has defined Humphrey and McKeown’s work through five albums and counting.