House and Land is a North Carolina based duo whose guitar, fiddle and banjo abilities transform traditional folk forms from the familiar to the strikingly fresh. Their feminist interpretations of lyrics reflective of another time and attitude is both empowering and illustrative. Identifying with many songs’ message of close relationship with the land and principles of stewardship, the duo’s emotional connection is palpable in their hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies. There is a reason these songs had and have deep resonance in rural communities which is made clear when delivered with such potency. Guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Louise and fiddler/banjoist Sally Anne Morgan cull songs from Appalachia, the Ozarks, and the U.K. and imbue them with a sense of themselves through careful arrangements, varied instrumentation, and lyrical reinterpretations. Their gorgeous sophomore album Across The Field is a work of bold artistry, drawing connections between the traditional and psychedelic through dexterous improvisation and deep appreciation of the living culture of their songs.
A keen understanding of the traditional source material House and Land pulls from allows the duo the freedom to experiment. Instead of seeing old, even ancient material as limiting, they use the living songs as compositional canvases to paint rich new tapestries and tell modern versions of timeless stories. Polyrhythmic figures like those of Louise’s electric guitar on “Two Sisters” were shaped in part from Louise imitating patterns an oscillating modular synthesizer may produce. Subtle layering of additional instruments such as the glockenspiel and double tin whistle on “Blacksmith” or the lush reverb-laden recorder on “Ca The Yowes” breathes new character into each song. House and Land uses each of these nuances to highlight the kinship between folk traditions and psychedelic music, classical composition, and free music through their use of minimalism, drone, and improvisation.
Purposeful perspective shifts through feminization of song’s protagonists on Across The Field are as empowering as they are revelatory of the masculine-dominated time they stem from. The controlling father and brothers of “Rainbow ‘mid Life’s Willows” are reframed from the antiquated “wise” and “stalwart” to “mean” and “cruel.” The disempowering words to “Carolina Lady” are omitted entirely in House and Land’s defiantly improvised instrumental interpretation of the song’s melody, a testament to Morgan and Louise’s agency and skill. For Louise and Morgan, this process is not only meant to empower the oft-dismissed feminine point of view in folk traditions, but as Morgan says, “It does the songs justice to sing them how you feel them, even if that means changing a few words.”
The history of each song on Across The Field spans far beyond Louise and Morgan’s own lifetimes, yet they still strike to the quick of what it means to be a human in the world. During the duo’s travels since the release of debut House and Land in 2016 they have met and played with the likes of British folk heroes Shirley Collins, Carole Pegg, and French hurdy gurdy master Emmanuelle Parrenin. These brief encounters served to reinvigorate the duo and reinforced the importance of using songs to connect people to the land and to the continuity of human culture. On Across The Field, House and Land have taken up the mantel of their elders with reverence and care, weaving fresh, resplendent, contemporary tales from disparate threads of the past.