Brother-brother mandolin-and-guitar duet-vocal acts have been a cornerstone of the modern bluegrass and traditional country music sound—think of the Monroe Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Lilly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and many others. So perhaps it’s not surprising that a brother-sister mandolin-and-guitar duet-vocal act is becoming a keystone of the contemporary bluegrass and country music sound.
Singer/songwriters Lee and Elaine Roy were born in Fitchburg, Mass., but their music is rooted in the enduring warmth and cold sorrows of the lives of Southern working folk. There may be a good reason for this. The Roy family loved country music and later relocated to Coal Branch, NB, Canada, a small town with a sawmill, grist mill and, as the name suggests, coal mining operations. No wonder the Roys sing their opening track (and recent single release) “Coal Minin’ Man” with such conviction.
The Roys have lately been a busy act with extensive touring; hosting of the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree; and even singing the national anthem at a Tennessee Titans’ football game. They present a lonesome but sweet sound that will likely appeal to a spectrum of bluegrass and country music fans.
Lee Roy’s songwriting abilities are as impressive as his soaring vocals. One powerful track is “That’s What Makes It Love,” co-written with Morry Trent and featuring fine performances by Ricky Skaggs & the Whites. Moment to moment, the song powerfully progresses from humble vignettes to a final spiritual observation. It is a classic overview of life’s yearnings. “Give A Ride To The Devil,” by Lee Roy and Robert Ellis Orall, has an equally high impact in its music and message. Elaine Roy is a talented composer in her own right. Among the album’s highlights are her wistful solo composition “Right Back At You,” and the finely edged “Trailblazer,” co-written with Steve and Bethany Dean.
It’s not just that Elaine sings beautiful upper harmony to Lee’s lead. Lee is also consistently capable of enhancing lower harmonies to Elaine’s sweet higher voice. This versatility is a hallmark of the Roys’ evolving sound. In addition to their seamless sibling-blended vocal duets, there’s a lot to enjoy instrumentally on this debut effort. Lee’s surging mandolin and Elaine’s flowing guitar playing.
The Roys and co-producers Andy Leftwich and David McGee have assembled a terrific backup bench of fiddlers, banjo pickers, reso-sliders and other sidemen. Surprisingly, these teammates are not specifically identified on the album’s liner notes. It would have been good to know who was in the infield and outfield. Let’s look for the The Roys’ next production to be as well-crafted as their debut. A hint is the final track “High Road,” wistful but beautiful, a fitting ending to an impassioned album and, let’s hope, the harbinger of a memorable artistic career for The Roys. (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D., Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) RDS