A musical traveler tuning into The Foreign Landers’ Travelers Rest might indeed be tempted to stay a while. The duo of David Benedict and Tabitha Agnew distills the allure and anticipation of roaming the globe and all the fears and tensions that come with it into an album of songs that feel like home.
When Benedict, from South Carolina, and Agnew, from Northern Ireland, first met at the 2017 International Bluegrass Music Association conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, they found a deep musical and personal connection. Their courtship consisted of transatlantic flights amid tours with their respective bands: Benedict is an alum of bluegrass groundbreakers Mile Twelve, and Agnew played with Northern Ireland’s Cup O’ Joe and British bluegrass band Midnight Skyracer. They married in 2019, but green card hurdles kept them mostly apart. It wasn’t until the pandemic descended — and Benedict scurried to get to Northern Ireland before international flights were grounded — that they were together long enough to finally make music together.
Their first foray was an EP, 2021’s Put All Your Troubles Away (ND review), and now they tell their story from the past couple years more fully with Travelers Rest, named for the South Carolina town where they now reside, nestled between Greenville and the Appalachian Mountains.
Home is the big theme here — leaving home, taking the plunge to make a new home in unfamiliar territory, blooming where you’re planted. Opening track “Traveler” sets the scene, beckoning the listener to find some rest and offering understanding for how hard it can be to set out into a world that isn’t always kind. Agnew’s sweet vocals start out over a simple guitar melody, joining with her banjo and Benedict’s harmonies and mandolin as the song settles in.
“Should I Go” captures the agony of a life-altering decision: Cling to the comforts of home, or plunge into something entirely new in “a foreign land”? A sometimes-discordant melody and jittery rhythm underscore the state of nerves such a crossroads conjures up. Benedict takes the vocal lead on “Flying Back to You,” narrating his true story of crossing the Atlantic twice in one day to reunite with Agnew in Northern Ireland as COVID-19 lockdowns started taking effect in March 2020. “Though the world may end / Whatever’s round the bend / I’ll always come back to you,” he sings as Agnew’s banjo leaps and soars, matching the story’s sense of urgency.
Though both Benedict and Agnew bear plenty of bluegrass bonafides, they invite other sounds in as well, including a pedal steel from Karl Smakula on country-tinged “We’ll Be Fine” and whistle and bodrhán from Brian Finnegan and Cathal Murphy for a Celtic feel on instrumental “Johnny’s Peacock/The Red-Tailed Hawk.”
Appropriately, Travelers Rest ends with “The Last Song,” a satisfied sigh at the end of this musical journey that sees a beginning even in a sunset and a home waiting when worldly travels are done. “The journey’s just begun,” The Foreign Landers reassure, and one hopes that’s true of their musical travels together as well.
The Foreign Landers’ Travelers Rest is out Nov. 12.