The Rough & Tumble bandmates turned spouses, Mallory Graham (Pennsylvania) and Scott Tyler (California), have been hovering beneath most people’s radar for some time. Yet that’s been gradually changing, with each passing year bringing further recognition and success, due no doubt not only to astute songwriting, but also to their unrelenting live performances since the couple united under their collective name in 2011. “The Hardest Part,” a track taken from their prior 2019 release, “Howling Back at the Wounded Dog,” won Independent Music Awards ‘Best Americana Song,’ followed by the couple being crowned by popular vote as The Listening Room Network’s 2019 Artist of the Year.
The twelve songs that constitute their latest album, “We’re Only Family If You Say So,” can only add further to that upward trajectory and may be the breakthrough they richly deserve. Recorded in East Nashville, TN, with the help of producer/engineer Dave Coleman (who also worked on their 2018 “We Made Ourselves A Home When We Didn’t know” album), this offering brings a fuller band dimension courtesy of a strong supporting cast, notably Dave Coleman (guitars), Taylor Donskey (bass), and Chris Benelli (drums), with occasional pedal steel and harmonica added by Marc Herring and Ron ‘Rosco’ Selley respectively.
Describing their sounds as dumpster-folk/thrift-store Americana, the release explores the notion of family, what it means, and what it’s like to lose it. Listening for the first time, what strikes you is indeed the unpretentious nature of the overall feel, and how well Mallory and Scott’s interweaving vocals complement the other, with enough ‘edge’ to separate them from the field. In short, no-nonsense, straight-forward, modern-sounding folk music. For me, the album offers up certain standout tracks, with the sublime “Joni” topping the list, followed closely by “Nothing Broke My Heart,” “Painter’s Sorrow,” and “You’re Not Going Alone,” but with so much on offer here, you’ll no doubt find your own personal favourites too. What you won’t find is the need to skip any tracks, as each and every one of these twelve tracks are excellent, and truly worth exploring.
With a vinyl release (their first), and available to stream or download, this may well be the record that brings the duo further acclaim. If you like no-nonsense traditional sounding edgy folk, then this is certainly an album worth checking out. With plenty of Americana fans here in the UK alone that would love music of this nature, my hope is that The Rough & Tumble’s album finally picks up the radio waves it deserves, and brings them wider attention.