It’s hard not to be a little bit jealous of Christopher Turpin and Stephanie Jean Turpin, also known as the zealously eclectic duo Ida Mae. On Click Click Domino, their endlessly engaging sophomore album, the spouses survey classic American styles like blues, rock and roll, gospel, and folk, summoning the kind of joyous energy generally associated with newbies. Countless others have studied and reinterpreted these familiar sounds, of course, but few match the enthusiasm they bring to their work.
Two Brits now based in Nashville, the Turpins have been treading a retro path for some time. A decade ago, they played in Kill It Kid (name courtesy of a Blind Willie McTell song), which drew on similar sources, albeit with more commercial calculation. When the group ended, the Turpins relaunched themselves as Ida Mae (also from a blues tune, via Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee), releasing Chasing Lights in 2019. That debut album was an earthier, more heartfelt offering than Kill It Kid’s albums, and Click Click Domino doubles down on the old-fashioned vibe without losing a speck of freshness.
Fervor ties everything together. The Turpins intertwine their voices in piercing, sweet-and-sour harmonies, summoning a revival meeting urgency as they seem to push against the boundaries of a song in search of ecstatic release. This electric singing is set against a deceptively complex backdrop featuring a seamless blend of older and newer elements. Christopher’s resonator guitar, banjolele, mandolinetto, and other string things joust with Stephanie Jean’s Mellotron, synths, and piano, yet it all flows smoothly, no easy feat considering they assembled most of the pieces on their own in pandemic-induced isolation.
Click Click Domino underscores the impact of the lockdown by wistfully celebrating what was put on hold: the day-to-day world of the itinerant musician. The melancholy opening track, “Road to Avalon,” profiles “drifters barricaded at the border,” consumed by “heartaches and visions,” while the raging rocker “Long Gone and Heartworn,” reflects on “wasting daylight until the music starts,” and having “no money, just a case of songs.” “Line on the Page” mournfully tracks “the king and queen of nowhere,” from screaming in the bright lights to backstage solitude.
Hints of alienation and social dysfunction amplify a sense of creeping dread. “Little Liars” pairs Stephanie Jean’s woozy vocal and an analogue drum machine, evoking “newsprint fires” and “lawless blood.” Lamenting “populism politics” and “ice melting on the frontier,” the stomping title track allows Christopher to indulge in blistering blues-rock excess, with guest Marcus King joining the wickedly good display of electric guitar pyrotechnics; they reteam on the equally exciting “Deep River.”
Click Click Domino wraps with the beautifully desolate “Has My Midnight Begun,” neatly encapsulating the angsty vibe running through the album. Still, you can’t keep a good band, or duo, down. Even under the dark cloud of reality, it’s impossible to miss the Turpins’ wide-eyed delight at simply making music. Let ’em back on the road and there’s no telling what they’ll come up with.