Hannah and Maggie – Muscle and Bone (2012)

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New York acoustic folk-pop duo Maggie Kraus and Hannah Hickok are the perfect melding of Simon and Garfunkel and the Indigo Girls, offering quietly resonant songs conveyed through a shimmering vocal interplay.

The difference on this, their follow up to the debut effort Fine Being Here, is the way Hannah and Maggie have advanced those notions toward a sound that’s uniquely their own. They’ve gotten there by embracing the joy that can follow longing, the embrace after a quarrel, the sunshine after the rain.

Sure, there remains the “elegant ache” of “Sara,” a standout track on Muscle and Bone. But, by then, Hannah and Maggie have already skipped through “As I Awake” — easily the most sun-filled, stubbornly optimistic song of their time together.

Elsewhere, Muscle and Bone comes alive with the cello-driven, horn-flecked “Burlington, VT,” a full-bodied sound that couldn’t be more different than their stripped-down, voices-and-guitar live shows. “Little Wind” ripples with an ever-observant, utterly enchanting idealism. “Brighton Beach” finds the innate beauty in every part of love, even the hard parts.

That’s emblematic of an album with broader aspirations, both thematically and musically. This pair met while attending Smith College, near Boston, Massachusetts, and found that they shared an interest in artists like Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens. But they haven’t gotten stuck in an early rut of mimicry, and Muscle and Bone has the feel of a sling-shot moment, as Hannah and Maggie take long strides towards a more challenging, creatively involving sound.

Hannah and Maggie have here, as on their 2011 debut, a deeply inviting chemistry, that comforting extra something that draws a listener in — ever deeper into their confidential, rawly emotional narratives. But, and this is where Muscle and Bone finds a new momentum, these stories mustn’t always be heart-breakingly sad.

Some of the fizzy energy (and, quite frankly, the goofball mirth) that’s always made their live shows such a hoot is finally finding its way into Hannah and Maggie’s recorded output, and that’s giving it these endless intriguing new layers of complexity.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Margie Blanchard

    Such a great review! I agree and celebrate every lovely sentiment! Margie