Earmarked by a transient subtlety in their gorgeously woven duets, Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton’s Been on Your Side is a delicate light glistening softly in the darkness. Due 31 August via Free Dirt, the album is comprised of carefully composed and performed Americana that aims to enchant listeners with its richly-painted minimalism. There’s more here to engage an audience with their soft, conscience embrace of American roots music than one might initially expect, with layers of vigilant instrumentation and reassuring cadences to sidle into.
It comes as no surprise that Hartman & Ashton would so diligently craft an album, of course. Although Been on Your Side is their first as a duo, the two have singularly been gathering accolades in the roots world for years. Ashton plays a part in Fish & Bird, whereas Hartman has only recently departed Della Mae and has been nominated for an AMA Instrumentalist of the Year award along the way. Exemplified on this album is their virtuosity as songwriters in smaller quarters, operating as a duet without all of the trimmings of a full band.
Although their new single, “Which Will”, is a cover, it gives the newfound duo a chance to exhibit their skills as arrangers. Not much has changed in the way of melody between Hartman & Ashton and the likes of the also-masterful Nick Drake, but the song still manages to benefit from an equally captivating re-imagining. Drake’s arrangement is stripped back, allowing room for Hartman & Ashton’s interweaving harmonies to take center seat. Its accompanying video, recorded by Jacob Blumberg, is as gently sunbathed and evocative as the song itself.
Hartman tells PopMatters, “Nick Drake is a master of deceptive simplicity. Coupled with his raw honesty, he has been a teacher to many. ‘Which Will’ is one of those masterpieces that reveals a new layer every time it is sung, asking all of the questions two people can hold.”