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Raven and Red Raven and Red
Album: We Rise Up
Label: Line Crossing
Tracks: 12

Let me be upfront about this. The album cover, featuring Mitchell Lane (red), Brittany Lynn Jones (raven) and Cole King (whose hair colour doesn't make it to the credits) photographed in a garden, rosy-cheeked, well-scrubbed, fresh-faced and flashing gleaming white smiles, is, without doubt, one of the year's worst. Looking like wholesome poster children for some 70s evangelist purity movement, even the Osmonds in their youthful heyday might have found it too cheesy.

However, those curious enough to venture past this will be rewarded with one of the best country debut albums of the year. Moving to Nashville after graduating university North Carolina, Atlanta native Lane (guitar) and Pennsylvania-born Jones (violin, mandolin, guitar, banjolin) hooked up with the former's equally classically trained high school teenage mandolinist young brother, bonding over a shared interest in and love for old-school folk and country.

The album's sound fleshed out with Paul Leech on bass and cello and Jones's drummer uncle Justin Collins, all bar two of the songs are self-penned and sport the sort of quality and craftsmanship that usually takes years to accomplish, opening with the first number they wrote together, the easy swaying 'Living and Loving You', Lane's reedy tenor upfront with the others proving immaculate harmonies on a song that could have come from the classic era of 60s country pop.

It's a strong statement of intent that's firmly backed up in quick succession by 'Left Me Again', a rubber ball love song about the guy to whom an old flame always briefly bounces back when her relationship hits a speed bump and, conjuring thoughts of Roger McGuinn's early solo work, the folksy 'Wild Roses', the brothers sharing vocals on a reminiscence of a brief summer of love romance with free spirit flower child that proves you don't have to have been there to remember the 60s.

Jones' 5-string violin setting the mood, Lane and Jones' vocals interweaving, 'Lead Me Back To You' is another song of love and loss, only this time about hanging on through the rocky patches before the first non-original, 'Grandpa's Beer' a fiddle-laced generation torch passing number by Jeffrey Shore and Jonathan Quintero.

Shore also contributes to the Jones's falsetto-sung folksiness of the mandolin-flecked 'Mirror Of My Soul', a song about a long enduring love at first sight before things get back to told school honky tonk for the George Jonesy 'Another Empty Bottle'. Another of their influences rears its head on a nostalgic, violin-flecked cover of Randy Sparks' 'Today', a hit back in 1964 for the New Christy Minstrels, perfectly evoking folk music shows of the period such as Hootenanny.

Sounding a thematic echo with 'Left Me Again', indeed, almost a sequel, 'It Could Have Been You' has a what might have been bittersweet edge, a similar poignancy enrobing 'Moonshine and Makeup (One More Mistake)' a song about a girl who, desperately seeking connection, hides her lack of self-worth in makeup and seeks escape from loneliness in drink, pills and one night pick-ups.

With Jones displaying her fiddle prowess on the six-minute plus instrumental showcase medley of 'Wild Roses (Reprise): Winter Raven/World Traveller', the album ends with the title track, another six minute number, which, as the title suggests leaves things on a musically upbeat and lyrically positive note about overcoming adversity and doubt and always striving for higher ground "Because our purpose is endurance and perseverance is our name."

A solid reminder that you shouldn't judge a book, or in this case a CD, it's an auspicious calling card full of a promise for an even brighter future, but they might want to get a new sleeve designer.

Mike Davies