On sophomore album Clementine, Paper Wings blends two distinct voices and impeccable skills as instrumentalists to create a modern, unified vision built on Appalachian traditions.
The duo features old-time music mainstay and California native Emily Mann and Wilhelmina Frankzerda, an Oregon-born, Nashville-based fiddling champion and a current member of the backing band for The Civil Wars alum Joy Williams.
Together, the long-distance bandmates utilize tight harmonies and acoustic guitar, banjo, and fiddle on “Ashby,” “Winter Storm,” “Good Man” and other tracks reminiscent of the old-time Southern tunes still played by their fellow stringband revivalists. Other songs, such as “Troubled Soul,” “As I Walk Down,” and “Miss My Darlin’ So,” sound more in line with the modern folk style of First Aid Kit. Both approaches honor the past while revealing more about Paper Wings’ fresh, collective path.
Although Mann and Frankzerda’s skills as pickers define the album, a couple of songs shine brightly because of their rich lyrical content. For instance, the rapid-fire succession of historic archetypes in “Sister” introduces the rustic, rural imagery we expect from Gillian Welch and others well-versed in both Appalachian music and regional storytelling.
Another shining example of Paper Wings’ collective lyrical talent comes with the terse, plodding title track. It’s a four-plus minute exploration of the classic love song, permeated with the sort of raw emotion that’s a mark of timeless folk music.
Considering Welch still gets misplaced criticism as a New Yorker masquerading as a mountaineer, it’s worth pointing out that place of birth should not disqualify any act from referencing Southern folkways in song. Mann and Frankzerda’s great-grandparents may not have lived these tales’ ups and downs firsthand, but their progeny certainly do them as much justice as many sons and daughters of the South do.
In all, the album reminds us of the magic that happens when two individually great talents set aside solo pursuits and side musician work long enough to construct something familiar yet original on their common ground.