Sugar + The Hi-Lows. Taking a page from She & Him’s mid-century kitsch and the Civil Wars’ folksy harmonies, Nashville-based songwriters Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup turn back the clock with Sugar + the Hi-Lows, a retro boy-and-girl duo with both feet planted in the pre-Internet era. The two have worked together before, co-writing songs on each other’s solo albums and landing a handful of TV placements including prime-time spots on “Grey’s Anatomy” with their quiet, acoustic pop tunes. As co-founders of Sugar + the Hi-Lows, they adopt new, louder personalities (she’s Sugar, a sassy soul singer, and he’s leader of the Hi-Lows, a backup band somewhere along the lines of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and crank up the volume on their vintage instruments, proof that even the most introspective songwriters need to shake a leg once in awhile.
There’s a whole lot of shaking going on with the pair’s self-titled debut, a short, breezy collection of rockabilly, throwback pop, Motown, and jump blues. All of those genres are filtered through the band’s Nashville roots, but Sugar + the Hi-lows don’t sound twangy or countrified as much as distinctly southern, from the Sun Records stomp of “Two Day High” to the backwoods, garage-rock swagger of “See It For Yourself.” Dabbs and Stroup share the spotlight equally, relying so heavily on vocal harmonies that it’s often hard to tell which part is the lead melody and which is the support. They sing beautifully, too, and their voices wind up making the biggest impact, no easy feat on an album filled with solid songwriting and warm, era-appropriate production.
Elenowen. There’s something so freeing about letting go of others’ expectations to press on in a direction of your own choosing. Elenowen, husband and wife singer/songwriters Josh and Nicole Johnson, have lit upon their common voice after, roads traveled, trials overcome and years lived. Resonating within themes of finding themselves in each other and the infinite possibilities of what’s ahead, Elenowen’s sophomore full-length For the Taking is a collection of modern songs keeping an indie tradition alive.
Those familiar with Elenowen’s appearance on the inaugural season of NBC’s The Voice, their debut album, Pulling Back the Veil or their follow-up singles and EP, will recognize their characteristic tender melodies, lyrical motifs and incandescent acoustic work. But there’s something new and exciting in this assortment of songs found on For the Taking, produced by Music City staples Jeremy Bose and Trent Dabbs. Perhaps it’s a result of the overwhelming fan support they received by funding the album with Kickstarter, which served to reassure the young duo about their place in the world. Of their freshly realized niche, Nicole says, “We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it feels like we’re newborns, starting all over again.”
“We’re basically starting from scratch,” Josh agrees. “In a way, this record feels a lot like our first one. The whole tone and the way we’re going about this album are synonymous with our debut. It’s back to just us.”