For millennia, humans have traced out meaning in the constellations. The stars have been watched and wondered at by poets, farmers, and astrologers looking for guidance and inspiration. On a summer night in 2016, these same constellations hung over the forests and rivers of Horsefly, British Columbia. Down below, a host of friends and family members were camped out in tents on the acreage of Pharis & Jason Romero. Since the release of their last album, the Juno Award-winning musicians and celebrated instrument makers had taken a year-long sabbatical from touring and recording to welcome their second child, build some banjos, and tear down their house and build a new one with the help of their local and extended community. But the stars had other plans in mind. As a fire came in the night to claim their shop, the Romeros found themselves surrounded by the community that came to support them. “I think being ‘pushed to the edge’ is a perfect way of of describing how that summer felt. The day after the fire, support just started pouring in,” says Pharis. “It was overwhelming, this sense of receiving when we had absolutely nothing to give other than love and thanks.” And in the midst of the chaos of building and rebuilding, taking care of children, and feeding everyone, Pharis says, “music and songwriting were hovering at the edge but never came inside. There was no space to just sit and be and let thoughts, melodies, and ideas ferment.” These experiences and the growing sense of gratitude would soon be connected and drawn together through music, becoming Sweet Old Religion, Pharis & Jason’s first album made up of entirely original songs.
“Just weeks after everyone left all the music, all of the songwriting, it just began to flow immediately as if a tap was opened,” says Pharis. “There was suddenly this space for all those months of really big feelings–having our son, dealing with loss and change, and receiving so much love and support–to be gathered into this big swirl of ideas, feelings, and melodies. It just all started coming out like crazy.” Having been together for a decade, making music together, working together, and parenting together, the Romeros are at their strongest and most free on Sweet Old Religion. “Our lives have become so intertwined, even our phrasing and vocal cadences match like family,” says Pharis. In keeping with their handcrafted and homemade family business disposition, Pharis and Jason sought to make as much of the album live in their home as possible. Turning one side of their reconstructed instrument shop into a studio, they recorded with engineer John Raham and producer Marc Jenkins. The album also features Patrick Metzger on bass, John Reischman on mandolin, Josh Rabie on fiddle, and Raham and Jenkins joining them on drums and pedal steel. Musically, Sweet Old Religion carries a wide spread of influences, spanning from early 1920s jazz, blues, and country to 1960s songwriters like Levon Helm and The Band. The album also features songs inspired by their deep love of old music and rural life, with archaic banjo tunings where Jason moves between several of his own handmade instruments to bring out unique tones for each song.
Now Pharis & Jason Romero are back on the road, with a new workshop, a mostly finished house, and two kids running across the fields. The songs on Sweet Old Religion sparkle like stars. Together they form a constellation that tells an ancient and archetypal story visible to anyone who looks up at the sky on a summer night. And to all those who listen it whispers down below: “Slow down, dig deep, and love your neighbor.”
Sweet Old Religion is available everywhere on May 18, 2018.
A few other nuts & bolts:
Singing vibrant duets, writing deadly songs, playing handmade banjos and loving old acoustic guitars, Pharis & Jason Romero have a classic story. When some scratchy old records and a custom banjo led to their meeting in 2007, they quickly knew they were in for the long haul. They've since released six records and toured across North America and the UK. They've won a Juno award, been featured on NPR Music, CBC, BBC, and Folk Alley, and have performed on A Prairie Home Companion and CBC's The Vinyl Cafe. They are passionate teachers and believers in many things folk, and their heartbreakingly harmonic live show is an ever-evolving and never-ending quest for good songs and beautiful sounds. Pharis is Artistic Director for Voice Works, a workshop for singers, as part of her work as a diverse singing teacher; Jason instructs all styles of banjo playing, especially old-time three finger playing.
Sweet Old Religion is the newest release from the duo. All originals, with light, love and time leading the themes, it's a record that sounds like over a decade of playing and listening together. Part duets and part featuring guests, it’s Pharis & Jason at their very finest, their most open, and their most givin’ ‘er. Produced by Marc Jenkins, engineered by John Raham, with musical guests and a choir of family & friends, Sweet Old Religion follows up on the critical acclaim of 2015's A Wanderer I'll Stay. Called "sublime" (NPR) and "brilliant" (BBC), Wanderer won a 2016 Juno Award, a Western Canadian Music Award, and was nominated for an International Folk Music Award and four Canadian Folk Music Awards. The title track was 2015's #1 most-played song on the Folk-DJ Charts.
”There’s something ancient and aching about the Romeros, a sound that feels like a reverberation from the past, even as the songs are a perfect antidote to this sped-up, modern world. Sweet Old Religion is particularly good medicine” - NO DEPRESSION
”Their collaboration is fueled by an intangible magic, the rare quality that makes a critic want to leave it at, “Just turn this album on; you’ll love it.” - FOLK ALLEY
“the warmth and love of the music pours from your speakers.” - TWANGVILLE
”We think you’ll love it.” - FRETBOARD JOURNAL
”all the swing and sway, soaring harmony lines and musical subtlety they're known for. It’s beautiful.” - EXCLAIM!
“5 stars. An impressive batch of warm-hearted, roots-bound originals” - ROOTS MUSIC REPORT
”beautifully crafted musicianship and singing” - FOLK RADIO UK
For Earlier Releases
Sung with sublime vocal harmonies that blend and intertwine effortlessly.
- NPR MUSIC - SONGS WE LOVE
For old time country all roads lead to Romero.
... Magnificent and inviting.
- BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED
2016 International Folk Music Awards Nomination Song of the Year A Wanderer I'll Stay
2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards Nominations - Traditional Album, Traditional Singer, Vocal Ensemble and Producer (with David Travers-Smith)
BEST OF 2015
FOLK-DJ CHARTS - #1 Song, #2 Album, #4 Artist of 2015
STINGRAY FOLK-ROOTS CANADA - #1 Most played in 2015
THE TELEGRAPH (UK) - #8 Best Country Album 2015
PENGUIN EGGS - #3 Album of 2015
BC PROVINCE - Top 10 Releases in 2015
FOLK ALLEY LISTENERS POLL - #13 Favorite Album of 2015
NPR Music's Best Songs of 2015 (So Far)
NPR Heavy Rotation - 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
5 stars. A very fine album.
- THE TELEGRAPH UK - BEST COUNTRY ALBUMS OF 2015
Their third duo record is perhaps their strongest yet. Their warm sepia tone has no artifice; it all rings true.
4.5/5 stars. This is a stunning acoustic folk recording.
- LONESOME ROAD REVIEW
A knack for writing simple songs with beautiful lyrics and addictive melodies.
- THE BLUEGRASS SITUATION
... highly recommended.
- MAVERICK MAGAZINE
Sign. Me. Up... The duo brings new life and passion to a classic folk and Americana... The Romeros welcome you into a timeless world and make you want to stay.
- POSTMEDIA NEWS - BIG RELEASES
4/4 stars. There are inevitable comparisons with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, but this couple deserve to make their own headlines.
- THE DAILY EXPRESS (UK)
The only downside to the major triumph that is A Wanderer I'll Stay is that the record is going to create the kind of festival-circuit demand that will make downtime in Horsefly nothing but a fond memory.
- THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT
9/10. Spine tingling beauty of the human voice and a simple set of strings.
- AMERICANA UK
Brilliant - I could listen to this all night long.
- FRANK HENNESSEY, BBC RADIO WALES
Their chemistry is undeniable, and the song feels like it's been rolling along a dusty plain out west for decades, just waiting to be picked up and sung.
- NPR MUSIC - FAVORITE SESSIONS
Anchored by Pharis' rock-solid rhythm guitar and propelled by Jason's inventive picking on a variety of banjos and guitars, their plaintive voices and soulful blend capture the ear and the imagination.
- ACOUSTIC GUITAR MAGAZINE
With effortless harmonies, intricate finger-picking, and a refreshing veteran spirit, Pharis & Jason's second album displays a startling prowess.
- UTNE READER
Powerful close-harmony singing, bright solo vocals by Pharis, precision picking, and a lonesome, laid-back vibe, make this perfect for close listening, but also for playing in the background of your daily life.
- THE HUFFINGTON POST
… Effortless evolves tradition with innovation. Meanwhile, high watermarks like "Lost Lula" simply defy categorization.
- CMT EDGE
This is music made on a timeless continuum...
- FOLK ALLEY
... Wonderful, achingly beautiful harmonies. It's all perfectly judged, precise but never flashy picking, tangible chemistry and warmth between them and Grade A songs.
- MAVERICK MAGAZINE
Songs of rare beauty and tenderness.
- PENGUIN EGGS
Pharis and Jason could well be the future of a bygone sound.
- HERALD SCOTLAND
I can't keep it out of my player.
– CBC MUSIC