If you’re expecting a logical appraisal of this new recording — whose subtitle Music to heal the heart and soothe the soul could be applied to every recording that this superb artistic couple has done over their long career — then you’re reading the wrong review. I like everything that they’ve done. They’ve been married since 1991 and there’s a joy in hearing them perform together with a competence that’s too rare in these days when even traditional music gets too often embellished when it need not be.
If you listened to A Prairie Home Companion, you’ve no doubt enjoyed them playing; they’re probably best known for ‘Ashokan Farewell’, which was used as the theme for the Ken Burns The Civil War documentary series nearly thirty years ago. My recommendations for their recordings would include The Lovers’ Waltz, The Pleasures of Winter, which is taken from Jay & Molly’s annual winter holiday special on PRI, and Harvest Home. But really you can’t go wrong with any of their many recordings.
The Quiet Room is a mix of formerly recorded and new material. The story of its origin, which you can read here, is one both of pain and eventual relief. Tearing up is perfectly okay. Suffice it to say that this recording is aptly named ‘The Quiet Room’ after the space in the hospital that Ungar used to retreat to while Mason was getting her treatments after surgery for a brain tumor. That so-named tune rightfully leads up this album. “It’s an album specifically put together for healing,” Ungar says over at Northern Express. “So these are songs that people have pointed out to us as having a healing component to them. We’re thinking of it as more of a spiritual medicinal album than as a conventional album.”’
I’ve been pondering how best to describe their music and I’m most comfortable thinking of it as the sort of warm, comfortable listening that you might well put on when there’s no place you’d rather be than where you call home and the winter weather is colder than you like. (Yes, I’m northern-born and resident.) It sounds a lot like the companionable music a contra dance band might play on a winter’s night to make the dancers just a bit more joyful.
There’s three waltzes, each as fine as anything I’ve heard from Väsen, the Swedish group whose waltzes are the finest I’ve had the pleasure to hear live myriad times. Right now, ‘Blue River Waltz’ is playing and my is it wonderful. ‘The Thanksgiving Waltz’ and ‘Lovers’ Waltz’ are the others here. Each is exemplary of the magic that the two of them weave playing acoustically.
Everything here, new and old, I hope will delight you as much as it does me. There’s even ‘Ashokan Farewell’ as the coda to this recording. I should note that the three new compositions performed here, ‘The Quiet Room,’ ‘Love of My Life’ and ‘Liberty’s Golden Shore’ are heartwarming — and that Molly is indeed quite healthy and whole now!
(Fiddle & Dance Records, 2018)