It would be hard for a duets record – and certainly one so congenially titled – not to sound companionable, but on their debut, Plains move past mere affability to bring a deep kind of ease. Plains brings together old friends Katie Crutchfield (AKA Waxahatchee) and Texas songwriter Jess Williamson, and much of the allure here lies in the duck and dive of their two voices: Crutchfield’s full of elasticity and billow, Williamson’s offering a sweetness and a trill. When they meet, as on the warmly unapologetic Hurricane, something magical is sprung.
All-female country acts aren’t a new concept – consider the Chicks, the Judds, or Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt’s beloved Trio album. And there is a sense here of Crutchfield and Williamson rooting themselves in a strong country tradition. There is plenty of soft-brushed drums, banjo and steel, talk of dry counties, screened-in porches and Texas in the rear-view mirror. When Williamson hits a high, howling note around two minutes in on No Record of Wrongs, it sounds like clear mountain air.
But there is modernity here, too – particularly when Crutchfield comes to the fore, as on lead single Problem With It. Even on Line of Sight, with its biblical nods, there is a sense of the contemporary – the word “Lord” sounding as much a secular exhalation as a prayer.
It’s a neat trick: the past and the present side by side, the old timey meeting the new world and walking together a ways.