Washington, D.C. cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog charge out of the gate with "Big Sur," the leadoff track on Janel & Anthony's 2012 album, Where Is Home. Like many pieces on this 13-track disc, "Big Sur" begins in floating ambience thanks to the duo's mastery of electronics and looping. However, it soon takes off with Leppin's ...
Washington, D.C. cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog charge out of the gate with "Big Sur," the leadoff track on Janel & Anthony's 2012 album, Where Is Home. Like many pieces on this 13-track disc, "Big Sur" begins in floating ambience thanks to the duo's mastery of electronics and looping. However, it soon takes off with Leppin's plucked ostinato line beneath Pirog's jangly, ringing electric 12-string guitar. Leppin's North Indian and Persian classical music background and Pirog's abilities on both the electric sitar and guitar are fully displayed on this powerful track, with a jagged theme, rhythmic drive, and soloing suggesting a 21st century instrumental version of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" for the post-post-rock generation. Things calm down after this first four and a half minutes, as remarkably textured and finely detailed electronic ambiences set a mood of contemplative spaciousness beneath tunes considerably more relaxed than the opener. Janel & Anthony are wise enough not to devote the remainder of Where Is Home to explorations of inner and outer space for their own sake, though, and like the most engaging ambient-inclined rock- and jazz-based artists, they use loops and electronics as a mood-setting backdrop for their compositions. The chorus of "Leaving the Woods" is announced by an echoed chord strum that centers the listener's attention without weighing down the tune's dreamy float; "Lily in the Garden" comes into sharp focus with an emphatic cello-guitar unison line; and deep layers of counterpoint melody are embellished by crisp, reedy harpsichord tones (Leppin and Pirog play many more instruments that cello and guitar) contrasting the rich strings on "A Viennesian Life." Janel & Anthony also acquit themselves nicely as an entirely acoustic classical-folk cello-guitar duo on the all-too-brief "Auburn Road," and disturb their reveries with free-form improvising and outright buzzing, clanging, and clattering noise on "Where Will We Go." The latter track references a theme of rootless wandering and displacement running as an undercurrent throughout the CD, reflecting the pair's peripatetic lifestyle as well as the destruction of Wedderburn, a grouping of nine small arts-and-crafts cottages in the woods in Vienna, Virginia, where Leppin grew up and where she first began playing music with Pirog. Wedderburn was torn down to make way for a McMansion subdivision with "Estates" in the name -- a development, so to speak, understandably imparting a longing, wistful quality to Janel & Anthony's music here. However, compelling back-story aside, as the album winds along one begins to wish that the duo might pick up the pace a few notches above a deliberate midtempo arpeggio, particularly after the opening blast of "Big Sur." Mid-album entry "Mustang Song" has a promising title, but despite a nice jammy guitar solo from Pirog, if it's about a horse, the horse is grazing in a pasture; if it's about a car, the car is parked in the garage. A sometimes deeply beautiful album, then, but not a call to action in the face of bulldozers. ~ Dave Lynch, Rovi