Sugar + The Hi-Lows: Sugar + The Hi-Lows

Written by February 24th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Sugar + The Hi-Lows
Sugar + The Hi-Lows
(Ready Set Records)
Rating: ★★★★☆

Taking a page from She & Him’s mid-century kitsch and the Civil Wars’ folksy harmonies, Nashville-based songwriters Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup turn back the clock with Sugar + the Hi-Lows, a retro boy-and-girl duo with both feet planted in the pre-Internet era. The two have worked together before, co-writing songs on each other’s solo albums and landing a handful of TV placements — including prime-time spots on “Grey’s Anatomy” — with their quiet, acoustic pop tunes. As co-founders of Sugar + the Hi-Lows, they adopt new, louder personalities (she’s Sugar, a sassy soul singer, and he’s leader of the Hi-Lows, a backup band somewhere along the lines of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and crank up the volume on their vintage instruments, proof that even the most introspective songwriters need to shake a leg once in awhile.

There’s a whole lot of shaking going on with the pair’s self-titled debut, a short, breezy collection of rockabilly, throwback pop, Motown, and jump blues. All of those genres are filtered through the band’s Nashville roots, but Sugar + the Hi-lows don’t sound twangy or countrified as much as distinctly southern, from the Sun Records stomp of “Two Day High” to the backwoods, garage-rock swagger of “See It For Yourself.” Dabbs and Stroup share the spotlight equally, relying so heavily on vocal harmonies that it’s often hard to tell which part is the lead melody and which is the support. They sing beautifully, too, and their voices wind up making the biggest impact, no easy feat on an album filled with solid songwriting and warm, era-appropriate production.

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