The pairing of Zoe Nichol and Rosie Jones is a special one, indeed. Armed with acoustic guitars, a banjo, a mandolin and a reasonable amount of stomp, the UK singer-songwriters bring a little backporch charm to the drab city suburbs. On this, their second EP, the vocal harmonies are consistently strong; their gift for rootsy hooks shining through each passing moment.
The hard twang of the banjo and accompanying acoustic guitar that provides the driving force of ‘Long Gone’ makes no bones about the duo’s musical intentions (or, indeed, musical prowess). The stripped back nature of this number’s verses allows their blend of strong vocals to come to the fore, much like a souped up countrified Unthanks, before stepping up to a chorus that goes full on country. The vocals are still very much the source of the main appeal, though a quick-paced stomp and nifty banjo are hugely entertaining. A little gentler, ‘Be So Cruel’ is also home to a jaunty line in banjo sounds, but a warm bass and softer vocal make this tune a little broader in appeal. The close harmonies are required listening, while a warming bass and soft steel guitar sound shift this towards classic Nanci Griffith territory (circa ‘Lone Star State of Mind’). A strong opening pairing, but the remaining tunes also bring plenty of acoustic entertainment.
With a stronger focus on acoustic guitar melodies – at least at first – ‘Shaking In Our Boots’ brings a little more folk to the table and a touch of adult pop, thus expanding the Worry Dolls’ musical palate. Again, the vocal harmonies are key – and here they bear a passing resemblance to chamber-pop Gordies Sharks Took The Rest. A more naturalistic approach allows the English accent to slip through on the closing parts of this track, proving these guys aren’t somewhere in Nashville or the Appalachian mountains, but somewhere in London, but that only adds to the general charm. Each of these key features come together make this number one of the EP’s best offerings, but in the usual tradition, the banjo steps up to rattle this number along at a reasonable pace. It’s only fair since Nichol is obviously a smart player. Closing with ‘Monkey On My Back’, Worry Dolls bring a last slice of bluegrass inflected folk – big on the harmonies, bigger on the twang – recycling things you’ve already heard but simultaneously losing none of their sparkle. A tale of possessing a false face and the inability for closeness, there’s a feeling there’s something darker at the root, but the sprightly nature of the arrangement always makes everything feel sunny. With the closing bars home to the repeated refrain “I can’t let go of this burden”, the duo sign off this hard tale with a memorable pay-off.
The perfect country-folk hybrid, these four songs are a showcase of great talent. Each number bristles past with both youthful energy and the sound of timeless old souls. For anyone with any more than a passing interest in roots-based sounds, ‘Burden’ is a short and sharp listen that’s bordering on essential.