The Lowest Pair had been planning to release a new record in the Spring of 2016. So in early 2015 Palmer convinced Kendl to spend a winter in Minnesota, with the temptation of working with local greats Dave Simonett and Erik Koskinen on the new material. The duo then set off on what would be a successful season of touring their second, critically acclaimed album, The Sacred Heart Sessions (Spin: “solemn and humble;” The Bluegrass Situation: “deeply felt”), and a new-old-time record, I Reckon I’m Fixin’ On Kickin’ Round To Pick A Little. In the fall, returning to the midwest to finish up the recordings they had begun a few months prior, Kendl and Palmer found themselves with a whole new batch of songs ready to lay down. After much deliberation, they ambitiously decided the two collections should be released together in 2016.
The new records, Fern Girl and Ice Man, as well as Uncertain As It Is Uneven, could be viewed as two windows into the growing and changing world of The Lowest Pair. Uncertain stays the course of their previous releases, being focused on stripped down, intimate arrangements to support their timeless songwriting and haunting vocals. Fern Girl i s a more moody and adventurous exploration of new sounds, new studio production directions, and what it might sound like for The Lowest Pair to be supported by a full band, while keeping one foot planted in the rootsy aesthetics which drew them together from the beginning.
Kendl Winter, born in Arkansas, moved to Olympia, Washington after high school, drawn to the evergreen forests and the lively and thriving music scene. She put three solo records out on Olympia’s indie label, K Records, and performed in nationally-touring northwest string bands before beginning The Lowest Pair in 2013 with Palmer T. Lee. Palmer built his first banjo when he was 19 from pieces he serendipitously inherited. Shortly after deciding songwriting would be the most effective and enjoyable medium for his musings, he began cutting his teeth fronting Minneapolis string bands and touring the midwest festival circuit, which is where he and Kendl first met, on the banks of the Mississippi.
“Both of us studied roots music and traditional banjo techniques, three finger and clawhammer. We started there and then from our understanding of them have diverged, perhaps because of our own limitations, and probably because we both tend to err on creative. Even when we are attempting to recreate old sounds, we can’t help but have our own twist on it. We approach our instruments as vehicles to explore poetry, song, and melody and have kind of been making up our own sounds in the places where we couldn’t find ones that seemed to fit or make sense to us. We recorded our first album (36cents) in Dave Simonett’s basement a month after we began playing together, and our second (The Sacred Heart Sessions) , a year later, in a beautiful old church in Duluth, MN.” -Kendl
So, back to that Spring of 2016 plan: with little attention to tedious practicalities and with an eye focused securely on delivering to their growing fan base a truly special treat; a rootsy, bluegrassy, old-timish version of meiosis has happened as one new album became two new albums.
For Kendl, making two albums was a natural reflection of the pace they had set and the experiences they had accumulated. “It’s not that the two records have to be next to and with each other, it’s just that it’s all there, our current story, and the stories we’re figuring out.”
Fans already know that the chemistry between Palmer’s Midwestern charm, those long winters spent listening to a steady diet of Townes Van Zandt and John Hartford, and Kendl’s poetic and playful way with words, her unique approach to the banjo, and her barefoot-in- the-cool-river-water mystique combine to make a powerful sound, but what’s new in 2016 is both the inclusion of those non-banjo sounds (harmonica, drum, bass, violin) and an incredible expansion of their songbook. In a way, two records, the playful and the hush, the dark and the rooted, the pillow and the nightmare, the pin drop and the starry night; the juxtaposition of the ups and downs that are experiences in a day, in a year, in a minute, all this has demanded from the band more than just “a new record.” Fern Girl and Ice Man and Uncertain As It Is Uneven mark the arrival of America’s next great musical duo, and it’s over the course of these two albums that that boast becomes clearly rooted in truth.