Emmalee Hunnicutt and Emily Hall write and perform acoustic folk music. A lot of people do that, and many of them learn to do it well enough to build an audience. Tune in any Saturday to “A Prairie Home Companion” on Public Radio and you’ll hear someone who can play a mean guitar and carry a tune. But most of them don’t really hold my attention; there’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t grab you by the throat and make you care.
The Emilees are among a few local luminaries (like Milk & Eggs and Gilded Bats) that escape the trap of comfortable folkiness. Their songs are quiet and gentle, but there’s nothing gentle about how they demand your attention. They both have lilting, agile voices that make simple songs lovely. Their lyrics are plain-spoken but hint at a home-made dreamy weirdness just outside the frame. “In The Valley of Enna” begins “It’s a valley of flowers where mother finds me, crying alone in the dirt. She picks up my hand and brushes off sand, and understands all of my hurt.” Short words, spare images, the Emilees raise more questions than they answer.
Emmalee Hunnicutt is “classically trained,” but that would signify nothing with respect to these songs if not for the way her deeply emotional musicality haunts them. Cello isn’t unknown in folk music, but it is unusual, and it’s rare to hear it played in a way so crucial to the songs.
“We wax and we wane like the moon, we are thoughts but we’re animals too,” they sing on “Wish You Well.” What that means I can’t tell you, but when they sing it it feels revelatory. The Emilees are witchily seductive. The recording work of Pete Becker and Luke Tweedy is some of their best work in acoustic music. I suspect they fell in love with the Emilees while they were recording, now it’s your turn.