There’s an epidemic among artists where we compare ourselves until all of the pure inspiration we once individually had vanishes. We’re then left scrambling to create art that can at least be marketed, because if we’re going to be miserable we might as well make some money, damn it. I’d argue that as brilliant as Nashville is, we are possibly the worst culprits. We all want to be distinctive, and not just because we’re narcissists, but because we want to contribute something of substance. In a city where everyone is treading water to be noticed it can be grueling to stay sincere to your craft.
Enter, Penny and Sparrow: Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke of Austin, Texas who managed to get up on stage at the High Watt this past Thursday night (during Communion) with nothing but an acoustic guitar and still left everyone at a complete loss for words.
The first time I heard them was late at night a few months back. I was on tour headed to some place in Florida in the back of a van when my friend put on Tenboom, the first full-length released by the duo in January 2013, which contains more instrumentation than the live show without losing it’s intimacy. As the album started playing I immediately melted into my seat and let every flawless harmony wash over me for a good ten minutes before finally blurting out, “How have I never heard this before?!”
Their songs are somehow heartbreaking yet infused with hope at the same time, similar to how their voices layer authority with gentleness. One live song was done entirely a capella, yet still lacked nothing. These guys exhibit zero hesitation about being full-grown men who harmonize moving ballads, and they have no reason to. All I could think throughout their entire set was, “this is what happens when people do what naturally pours out of them. It comes across and it connects.”
“I wish it was easier to kiss you on the mouth,
like it is to work hard and earn an honest wage,
but you’re not always fair to me like I wish you would be…
he’s the one who left home, I’m the one who stayed.”
– Honest Wage
Penny & Sparrow prove it doesn’t have to be complicated to be extraordinary. They know how to put on a show in a way that appears effortless, whether resounding over the audience with eyes closed and hands in pockets or executing a clever one-liner in between songs. But my favorite moments were when they’d step back from the microphones sighing melodies to themselves between verses as if holding onto the sentiment of each song.
Watching people take joy in what they do is well worth the door fee to see Penny & Sparrow perform, and tour dates can be found on their website. But if you can’t wait that long (and you shouldn’t), a new full-length album entitled, Struggle Pretty, was just released and can be found on iTunes along with the previous ones. It definitely won’t let you down (though you might end up weeping a little). The best part? They only got started in 2011, so in the future you can tell all your friends how you were into them before everyone else was. You’re welcome.