Storyhill, the celebrated singing-songwriting duo of Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson, are a confounding paradox. They are marvelously clear-throated vocalists. Each is a fine soloist. Their harmonies are angelic, among the richest since such predecessors as the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. But the material is pedestrian. They would do well to, in fact, follow Garfunkel’s lead when he left his partnership with Simon and admirably acquitted himself as an artist by doing covers of classics and drawing on the catalogs of unknowns quite capable at the craft of constructing a song.
Shade of the Trees, Storyhill’s newest release for St. Paul’s Red House Records, improves on their vapid debut for the label, Storyhill, but not by a great deal. The melodies on Storyhill meandered, fell static, and ultimately just stalled: the songs never really began, then progressed, and after a while, just stopped. The selections on Shade of the Trees all manage to achieve a bit of movement, holding dramatic promise that goes unfulfilled as, again, the songs don’t come to a conclusion, they merely cease when Cunningham and Hermanson are done singing.
“Pieces of Love” is a perfect example of what is both right and wrong with this music. Exquisite vocals easily catch the ear and hold your attention, intriguing as the chord changes shift into moody textures. The second verse does the same thing, setting you up for an emotional build. That doesn’t materialize. There’s just more and more beautiful singing that never goes anywhere. For all that Storyhill are excellent at creating an aural tapestry, they fail to do it with any depth. They abandon the time-tested structural fundamental that can be counted on to afford a composition at least appreciable movement: a bridge.
Producer Dan Wilson, says Hermanson in a press release, “knows how to set a scene in his studio to draw out the best in us. He’s very patient and wants to try lots of different approaches to our songs before settling. He really helped us get down to the core of these songs so they could speak in their simple arrangements.” No argument. Wilson brilliantly captures an elemental yet intricate sound—of songs that are stillborn and lifelessness.