As we head into the one weekend in February where the focus shifts to that little Cupid fella practicing his archery and match-making skills, the chances of finding a new album release of love songs is usually a pretty safe bet. Regular visitors to GDW know that we enjoy the music of The Rough & Tumble, the nomadic US-based dumpster-folk, thrift-store Americana husband and wife duo – and let’s face it, when you learn that Scott Tyler and Mallory Graham have an EP being “officially” released today (Patreon and Bandcamp saw an early release), this will likely be the most irreverent collection of Valentine’s Day tunes that you’re likely to find anywhere.
Released as an interim project (mostly for their fans and patrons), “Love Is Gross (But It Looks Good On You)” is a tongue-in-cheek nod to this ‘romantic weekend,’ yet once again, the duo’s charm, charisma, and ears for good songs shine through across all seven of these new tunes. “It’s a fun project of kinda, sorta, love songs,” offers Scott. “This is a short, fun collection we’re putting out before we do a push for a bigger project next year. It started off rather lightheartedly, but we’re really pleased with how it turned out. Even if it’s gross.”
The origins of this EP can be traced back to the early stages of the 2020 pandemic, when cancelled tours and the sudden loss of live music (and income) led to the duo being commissioned by friends and fans to write songs that express the weird, sometimes daunting ways of love. “We don’t really do love songs,” Mallory offers. “But we were eager for the work, and it was a great way to connect with people when we were all so separate.”
Self-promoting themselves using humorous anecdotes is exactly what we’ve come to expect from this fun-loving couple (we first caught a live show back in 2016), but as we’ve noted on more than one occasion, the shift and maturity in their writing and recording over their last couple of albums has been nothing short of outstanding. Progressing from an eclectic ‘anything goes’ pairing to a bona-fide contemporary folk-roots duo, do not let the title of this EP fool you – the music here is anything BUT tongue-in-cheek.
It is impossible to not fall immediately in love with the opening track, “Remember When,” a country-inspired toe-tapper that reminds us of the powerful vocal delivery Mallory has perfected over the years (I’m hearing similarities to vintage Faith Hill): “Hey, hey, it’s you again / We pulled one over on all of them / When they said we can’t, we said we can / In little like us, the storm we feared / Was the storm that would make the falls, that appear on the canyon walls / And the water ran clear.” Cue the timely arrival of Scott’s soothing harmonies heading into the chorus, yielding the mic back to his wife for the following verse, jumping back in here and there to accentuate specific words and lines. I’m only hoping that they were able to resuscitate the VU meters in producer Dave Coleman’s East Nashville studio once Mallory hits the bridge, prompting me to hit the repeat button to marvel once more at her range and intensity.
The duo delivers those same dual harmonies on “You,” another Mallory-led powerhouse of a track, and even though they tread a little lighter on the gas pedal for this ballad, their chemistry shines brightly throughout. Scott takes the lead on “As Tight As I Can,” a song he wrote when commissioned by Mallory to write a love song specifically from him to her. You have to love this softer, melodic ode, that enjoys the slight Cajun and Zydeco flavors that we discovered back on their 2019 “Howling Back At The Wounded Dog” album. And as for throwbacks, don’t miss the slightly up-tempo cover of the romantic 50s popular music ballad, “You Belong To Me,” complete with era-appropriate electric guitar cues and additional echo in Mallory’s microphone. Hearing this classic song triggered memories of another version for me, that from country singer Amy Comeaux back in the mid 90s; an emerging talent who died tragically in a car accident one Christmas in Alabama – lost way too early at just 21 years of age.
Of course, that is simply my own personal flashback, but as if almost reading my mind, The Rough & Tumble offer a track from this collection titled “Alabama,” a breezy, finger-snapping romantic number that cannot fail to put a smile on your face. “I woke up this morning in Alabama / Just in time to see the sun wake up the trees / Just in time to hear the trees wake up the birds / Just in time to find out I woke up in Alabama / Oh O Oh / You were still asleep in Tennessee.” It is easy to imagine taking a pleasant stroll on a sidewalk in the south right here, the pace dictated by simple snare taps and timeless guitar rings. “I’m not looking for a way to say I’m sorry / Just because I fell in love with someone new / Just because he says that he will love me too / Just because we’re wide awake in love in Alabama / Oh O Oh / You were still asleep in Tennessee.”Do we even need to raise questions as to the identity of this mystery man who is most certainly NOT in Tennessee?
“Love Is Gross (But It Looks Good On You)” is an incredibly fun EP from Scott and Mallory. It is also much more than a simple interim project that Scott led us to believe – not a “weird, ooey gooey love song collection”– but instead, a genuinely well constructed, recorded, and produced piece in its own right. My curiosity for the “…bigger project next year…” is already piqued, but knowing the creativity of this duo, it’s going to be something special. As for this EP, a small run of limited CDs are available in the band’s online merch store – and while I can’t promise that there are any remaining at this time, if this is something that would look good on your CD collection, then don’t procrastinate, act now – because when they’re gone, they’re gone. “Oh O Oh / You were still asleep in Tennessee.”
Photo Credit: Annie Minucuci