Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle, both good team players as well as solid individual acts, have finally built on the promise of their earlier collaboration on the track “Fireworks” from Mark’s 2005 release, Just Married: An Album of Duets. The new product, Let’s Just Stay Here, is a charmingly meat-and-potatoes album, full of wholesome hooks, beefy string lines and hot, brothy harmonies. (Maybe I should have had dinner before I wrote this.)
Let’s Just Stay Here is careful to maintain an appealing balance throughout—balance between the cynical and the apologetically maudlin (as in the blushingly sweet “Officer Down”); balance between sunny sing alongs and gritty 2 a.m. ballads; and of course, in the time honoured country tradition of male-female duos, balance between hoarse rumbling and honeyed, Neko Case-esque crooning. The result is an album that’s sturdy and even, but that rarely builds to anywhere. If a song begins strong, it will probably end strong. Most tracks fly beneath the radar and dole out modest payoffs. While this can sustain interest for a good long while, the home comforts of the well-built country song may start to seem a little stale towards the end. Luckily, the album’s penultimate song—“When I Come Back”—is also its best, shimmering with all the energy and unruliness missing in the other songs. It’s enough to revive the listener’s interest for the title track, a sweet and wistful waltz, which closes out the album.