Back when Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were making music, there was a strong showing of bringing the music back to the simplest of roots – to where the meat and potatoes could reign supreme. Rather than singing about the most complicated strategy, folk artists of their time would always bring their own lives to the main stage, for all to see. Singing about what they knew best, there was a true feeling of sincerity in their passions and it flourished onto the music with smooth ease because of it. In much of that same excitement and aesthetic sensibility, Gwyneth & Monko’s mostly-acoustic EP, Good Old Horse, steadies itself with simplistic stories and music, albeit a rather impressive suite of songs.
The five songs on this short and sweet EP encompass Gwyneth Moreland’s acoustic strums and frail voice, along with her counterpart, Michael Monko’s gentle accompaniment. Though each song displays an entirely unique and still, very traditional story at the helm, the sounds are easily identifiable with Moreland’s peculiarly gifted vocals and Monko’s bare-bones arrangements. Even when the duo break off into the even-keeled jangle of “Jack-a-Row,” each of their contributions are distinctly felt. Supporting a mandolin to intertwine with her guitar, Monko drives the music to an instrumental bridge; all the while, Moreland’s voice rides on top, singing about one her many fictional female characters.
Apparently the pair has an LP planned for the near future where new sounds and styles will be tackled. So it makes perfect sense for this quaint, touching and strikingly acoustic EP to be released as some sort of precursor. Moreland sings about women that are battle-tested and that have made difficult decisions and for the most part, her messages make good on their own. It recalls the plainness of folk music and portrays it in its most absolute form and thus, it might take some work for non-folk lovers to get into. But even when they veer into something a bit more playful, like the album’s title track and opener, the music still possesses a richly invigorating sound.
Through its basic routine and deepening spirit, Moreland’s voice always seems to be the music’s and individual songs’, strongest point. She definitely has a way of melting her voice around both the moving musical lines and whatever the subject matter is calling for. “Lexington Ballad” is probably the EP’s finest song – a ballad dressed up with flamenco-like guitar and a soaring acoustic melody – where Moreland shines as the song’s especially tremendous instrument. It’s her voice that serves as that extra instrument on Good Old Horse that calmly raises all of the release’s quality; and right now, it looks like a winning combination.
“Lexington Ballad” by Gwyneth & Monko