Album Review – The Lowest Pair ’36cents’

Nashville – The more banjos the better. That’s the case made by The Lowest Pair on their new album. 36¢ is the debut from the folksy duo of Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee. They made 36¢ sitting across from each other in a room, without tracking instruments and vocals separately. It was recorded and engineered by Dave Simonett, a fellow bluegrass player and member of Trampled By Turtles. The result is an intimacy that’s startlingly. 36¢ tackles harmonies and minimalist strings with flair and wit.

With their cotton flannel and baseball hats, Winter and Lee look like hippie organic farmers. Come to find out, they both have a penchant for growing things, whether it’s Lee’s multiple gardens in Minneapolis or the sprouts that Winter grows in the back of the tour bus. It’s no surprise then that their album lauds the pastoral life with songs like “Pear Tree,” which compares love and sex to the life of a pear tree, and “Trying To Feel At Home,” which laments the drudgery of city life and its constrictions on harvesting raspberries and Orange Kush.

The album’s naturalistic themes go hand-in-hand with big existential topics about death and one’s purpose in life. Lyrics about growing old aren’t always taken so seriously though, such as on “Dock My Boat” in which Winter names all the things she’s planning to see in death: “There’s thirteen turtles, four cats, three guinea pigs, and a bird. Oh and that’s my best friend, Sam.” Sometimes it sounds like Orange Kush was being passed in those writing sessions as they came up with this secular interpretation of “In the Sweet By-and-By.”

Manipulating phrases and concepts seems like a natural thing to do for a band that borrowed their name from the John Hartford song, “The Lowest Pair,” a parody of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day hors d’oeuvres in bed/As we forgive those who have dressed up against us.” The influence of Hartford’s dry wit bubbles up on the album on “Oh Susanna,” a rewrite of the old minstrel song. In the same vein, Townes van Zandt’s storytelling legacy can be heard on “Last Summer.”

It’s easy to get caught up in The Lowest Pair’s clever phrasing and overlook that these two have real musical chops. They skillfully play banjo alongside each other as well as acoustic guitar. Their minimalistic approach to songs and recording leaves little room for fudging. It’s like holding a strong light up to a piece of art so that every fleck of dust can be seen. Sometimes Lee’s voice cracks just the tiniest bit, but it’s these nicked tracks that give the album its warmth and character.

Winter and Lee fit snugly together, like they’ve found a magical combination in each other despite having worked solo and with other bands for many years. Kendl Winter’s distinctive rasp may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that her voice fits wonderfully with Palmer T. Lee’s coarse, classic voice. Their unique fusion of beauty and eccentricity is appealing to those who will listen with an open mind.

36¢ is being released through Team Love Records. Its name is a little deceptive, as the album is actually $9.99 on iTunes. They’re currently playing in the Northwest region, in Oregon and Winter’s home state of Washington.



Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

My first memory is of singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” quietly to myself during preschool naptime. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Nashville where an instrument lives in every home, but music has gripped me for as long as I can remember.

After dabbling in many parts of the music industry—recording studios, PR, management, labels, publishing—I’m expanding into music journalism because I’m yet to find anything more rewarding that finding and sharing new music.

A longtime sucker for girls with guitars, my musical taste unabashedly follows the songwriting lineage of Dolly Parton and includes Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Neko Case. But not to pigeonhole myself, my music love is big love that stretches from R.L. Burnside to Animal Collective to Lord Huron.

I’ve recently moved home to Nashville after living in Boston and Big Sur for several years. I’d forgotten how music pours onto the streets ten hours a day, seven days a week. I’m honored to share the creative explosion happening here. If your band is in the area or of the area, please reach out!
Caroline McDonald

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