June 2007

Storyhill - Storyhill
Red House Records RHR CD 197
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Storyhill is Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson, two Minnesota-based songwriters who have recorded 12 albums and built up a solid following since 1991. They took a three-year break in the late '90s, but reunited in 2001. Sales of their music had actually increased while they were off pursuing other projects. Their self-titled debut on Red House Records marks another important step for them. All their previous discs were self-released, and their intention was to follow the same path with Storyhill, but this time around record companies came calling.

Red House is the right place for this acoustic duo, whose emotionally affecting songs and beautiful two-part harmonies require a delicate touch. Producer Dan Wilson (of Semisonic) keeps things simple for the most part, letting Storyhill’s acoustic-guitar playing and refined vocal interplay allow their songs to unfold naturally. He adds some effective touches, such as the slide guitar on "Paradise Lost" and Eric Fawcett’s understated drumming, but only when they enhance the tunes. Storyhill’s lyrics are smart and free of clichés, even when the topic is familiar. "Paradise Lost" describes the pain we feel when suburban sprawl takes over places we wandered through as children: "Now the old trails disappear in neighborhoods / And streets named after what’s gone for good."

Wilson co-engineered and mixed Storyhill and the sound has a front-parlor intimacy. It is such a pleasure to hear well-recorded acoustic guitars instead of acoustic-electric. Storyhill has been compared with everyone from the Everly Brothers to the Jayhawks. Ignore the comparisons. This music stands on its own.