EP review: Two Ways Home – Closest Stranger

Best Part of Me opens the EP with uptempo instrumentation and an honest assessment of a passionate relationship. The dynamic is described in vivid terms: “how to get underneath someone’s skin.” Singers Isabelle Mariee’s and Lewis Fowler chart the romantic ups and downs with candour and realism. The highs aren’t rose-tinted, the lows aren’t irreparable, but the outcome is inevitable: “even when we disagree/you’re the best part of me.” The middle eight leads into the song’s sweet spot – a pause than can be extended further to amp up the anticipation live – followed by Fowler’s growl as the duo swing back into the catchy chorus.

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Push and Pull is another relentlessly uptempo number. It’s a duet but Fowler’s part is subtle, helping to show off Mariee’s effortlessly pure vocals which match the insistent beat while delivering reflective lyrics and a memorable chord progression.

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The song is filled with rhyming couplets that add to the cadence. As with Best Part of Me, the middle eight makes this song memorable. Live, the repetition of “my heart/my beating heart” makes for a satisfying singalong for even the most unfamiliar crowds.

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Don’t Give Up On Me is an aching ballad that Mariee leads on to set the mournful tone: “I’ve had good days and bad days/lose everything I had days/most days I’m trying to make it through.”

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Fowler joins in to add to the bittersweet tone. It becomes clear early on that the Birmingham referred to in the song is Alabama not West Midlands. This speaks to a general Americana influence and, more specifically perhaps, the influence of co-writer Logan Brill. They paint a stark picture of loneliness: “I’ve slept through some long nights with empty space at my side/can’t take another motel room.”

The lyrics switch between hope, entreaties and uncertainty, but the tone stays sorrowful and heavy with regret. It’s no real surprise when all efforts prove to be in vain. The plaintive closing refrain makes it clear that all hopes rest on the long-distance lover who remains too distant. We never find out if things work out.

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The EP closes with a corker, the title track. Fowler and Mariee’s voices blend delightfully here. Mining similar themes to Best Part of Me, Closest Stranger is about an imperfect but important relationship. It was written with Demi Marriner, which led to a special trio version of the song at Two Ways Home’s monthly songwriters round, The Round Up.

Both the song and the EP are well-produced, cohesive and incredibly catchy, destined to last as long as the sometimes maddening but ultimately enduring relationships that the  record describes.

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If you like your Americana with impeccable pop sensibilities and new country influences, it’s certainly worth buying Closest Stranger and hoping for a full-length release without delay.

If you’re in London, you can buy the EP in person – best to pick up their three EP bundle – at Two Ways Home’s The Round Up. Better yet, entrance is free. Don’t forget to tip the artists at the end, Nashville-style, though! See Two Ways Home’s Facebook page for details: facebook.com/twowayshome. The next few rounds promise to be particularly memorable. They’ll be hosting an exciting special guest on November 2, and on December 13 they’re joining forces with Katy Hurt & Friends for a bumper extravaganza.

If you’re elsewhere, head to the band’s website to buy the EP(s).

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