Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray | Snake Oil Songs
Album review by John Powell
Picture two musicians, resembling the hippiest versions of Jack and Meg White. They sport wide-brimmed Quaker hats, wear loose dresses, and between the two of them play percussion (stomps and glockenspiel too), guitar, organ, banjo, mandolin, lap steel, and harmonica.
Can you even imagine that? Well, that’s Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray, an Americana duo that spends their life on the road. Therefore, “Americana” is not a lightly attributed category. They have seen the U.S. and they sing about it with heartfelt soul and just the right amount of indie charisma. There’s nothing stuffy or snobby about their music. It clearly shines through as honest and poetic. Their EP, Snake Oil Songs, is six songs exploring blues, folk, and 60s and 70s low-fi radio fuzz.
“A Fool and Her Heart” has a guitar sound that’s like a stew slowly bubbling over a hot fire. “Although my mama didn’t raise no fool,” Miss Shevuaghn (AKA Erin Frisby) sings, “I can’t seem to hold onto mine.” She’s referring to her heart, of course. Behind her is overdubbed old-timey gospel ooh-ing, which is just gorgeous. The organ, drums, and growing heartbreak in Miss Shevaughn’s voice, along with tambourine, creates a wonderful single that burrows into you.
In the same vein, “Take Me Home” is a country ballad with mandolin dripping coolly throughout it. Miss Shevaughn has a great voice, and when she adds in backing harmonies the sound is raw and true. “The only home I’ve ever known,” she sings, “is a hotel in West Virginia/Oh, I’d like to do better/take me home.”
The highlight is the minute and a half closer, “Sweet and Low”, a spiritual with both of them singing in layers, a’capella. “I’ll carry your burden, brother,” it goes. “See you on the other side.” No one’s making and recording songs like this these days. They’ll tease the spiritual harmonies and themes, but this song is like the olive in the martini, a cool addition to the EP.
Yuma Wray gets a song, “Dead Men”, a bluesy ballad where he sings, “I got a nasty suspicion that the hammer’s comin’ down.” It fits the vibe of the rest of the EP, and his voice is neither bad nor good. It’s what you’d want him to sound like, singing these back- country songs. Unfortunately, he’s competing with his female counterpart, and her voice is hauntingly effervescent.
Bottom line: If you like tales of woe, Americana, timeless songs with an indie twist, what are waiting for?