There was a time, not very many years ago, when Americana was a haven for female artists. It was the genre for everyone with roots ranging from Emmylou Harris to Mavis Staple. These days women on the Americana charts are nearly as rare as they are in the mainstream. Part of that is that existing female artists are spacing their album a bit more widely. Where once it may have been a year between albums from Kasey Chambers or Tift Merritt, now more than three may pass. And some people have simply fallen off the map. For whatever reason, there has been a dearth of new female artists emerging on the American scene. This makes the new duo Driftwood Fire, made up of Lynn Sharf and Charlotte Formichella, an especially refreshing new act. With strong folksy harmonies and a sound that falls somewhere between The Waifs and Tres Chicas, their debut album How to Untangle a Heartache, is a gorgeous album that carries a lifetime of experience.
“The world goes by all around us, and its quiet here for a time,” Sharf sings beguilingly on the album's opening track “Turn on the Radio.” Its a ballad about the little rituals people go through at home, and the security they provide. “Small Town Nights” finds Formichella's guitar pushing, driving the melody quickly along under Sharf's voice. Sharf demonstrates a remarkable vocal agility, sliding easily up and down registers to underscore the delicate emotions of her songs. “Let It All Go” won honorable mention in the 2011 Telluride Troubadour contest. With its slinky, sensuous balance between the excitement and fragility of a new relationship, it is easy to see why. Both girls grew up in the rural hills of Virginia, and “Appalachian Hills” is tribute to this upbringing. The song is a government versus small farmer murder ballad that is as haunting and gorgeous as any Childe ballad. Formichella's banjo again comes from and center on “One Thing Left.” It provides a stark, wrenching counterpoint to the women's understated harmonies and the mournful lyrics. “Intermission” is a delightful instrumental, featuring Formichelle on electric guitar while Sharf whistles and percussionist Christian Toole plays with toys. “Say that you need me, just like before, tell me that you'll definitely listen to me at night around your back door,” Sharf demands on “Backdoor.” The track adds tension by pitting acoustic and electric guitar against each other in the melody. Formichelle pulls double duty on the follow up, “Paper Bag,” playing both acoustic guitar and banjo. “Suitcase packed, hand on the door,” Sharf mourns, “I know I won't be seeing you anymore.” The album comes as close to Indigo Girl's territory as it ever does on the track “What Would It Take.” The sumptuous harmonies play delicately against the wounded lyrics about an abandoned lover. “Grey Eyed Sunshine” returns to the stripped back, acoustic sound that fills so much of the album. It also finds Sharf returning to the bright, happy burbling memories of a happy love affair. “The Salty Sea” is a gorgeous song, at one Appalachian ballad, sea shanty and love song. This intriguing combination won the 2001 Christ Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest.
2011 has been quite the year for duos. So far, this year has seen the advent of The Civil Wars, and now come Driftwood Fire. Like their predecessors, Driftwood Fire is drawn to the stories and sounds of the American Southeast. They, however, filter that sound more through the women of Americana, women like Caitlin Cary, Emmylou Harris, Catie Curtis and Mary Gauthier. This gives them a refreshing sound that is completely unique but feels familiar, all at the same time. Made up of two former scientists, vocalist Lynn Sharf and one-woman band Charlotte Formichelle, Driftwood Fire is one of the most promising new bands of the year.
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