For a genre with such a geo-centric name, some of the best Americana music being produced today is not coming from America. Europe is producing some of the most exciting Americana acts today and one of the most buzzworthy of those acts is Dublin's I Draw Slow, who after a decade together are making their American label debut on Compass Records April 21 with Turn Your Face to the Sun.
The quintet is led by the dual vocal and songwriting talents of siblings Dave and Louise Holden, whose vocals blend the easy harmonies of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings with the family-band closeness of The Carter Family. Throughout Turn Your Face to the Sun's eleven tracks, the pair swap leads, coming so close together on choruses until it's near impossible to tell where Dave ends and Louise begins.
Also helping the cause is the production work of Brian Masterson. Masterson's past work with The Chieftains and Van Morrison gives him enough insight into the interplay between the folk music of Ireland and Appalachia to take I Draw Slow's natural inclination to play in both of those worlds and masterfully engineer an album that draws out the best of both.
Lyrically, I Draw Slow has always stood out but have really matured on Turn Your Face to the Sun. Album standout track “Garage Flowers” takes the time-worn trope of a love affair across social and economic classes and turns it on its ear. While the poor man, voiced by Dave, laments his “unworthiness” to approach the object of his affection, the rich girl in question, played excellently by Louise, stands on the other side of the door, wondering how to break down the similarly unbreachable walls he's built around himself. The song is anchored by the pair coming together to sing “in your ivory tower there's not enough room for two”, later to admit “I'm half afraid of you... but I'm half in love.”
Another standout is the gentle “Don't Wake the Children.” Backed by a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, Louise is the star here, a wife greeting the morning by wondering how two people sleeping in the same bed could find such a gulf between them. It's not a new concept in folk music by any means, but “let's steal a day from our own lives, curl up in the dark and be all ears, be all eyes” is a poetic and succinct reframing of an old concept.
While those two songs are the highlights, there is plenty more to love on Turn Your Face to the Sun. There's the band's Celtic-tinged arrangement of the traditional “Twin Sisters”, the haunting love ballad “My Portion”, and the string-pop lilt of “Apocalypso.”
I Draw Slow has been a popular draw at roots-based music festivals like MerleFest and RockyGrass for years. With the backing of a label like Compass and the major step forward in both their lyrical and instrumental chops, Turn Your Face to the Sun could be the breakout album they need to step out of the Americana box and find a fanbase among a wider audience.