Carmen Paradise and Peter LeClair have been disappearing into each other for years, with an epic dating story that began (barely) in high school and culminated ten years later in their marriage last summer. As a band they simply call themselves The Marvins and the message is clear: music and life are one and the same.
They've been making both together for as long as there has been a "we" and this kind of organic seamlessness has an ease and a life-rhythm to it. So it's fitting that they've unleashed their first collection of songs the same year they got hitched.
Everything there is to know about the Marvins' remarkable and charming first album, Lucky Stone, is right there in the lyric to "Long Time Ago." I don't remember if it was you or me who said they'd seen infinity inside the human eye. There's history built into a line like that, not just the story of two paths that eventually became one but of a union that goes beyond mere joining into the alchemy of ideals, talents, fantasies. The kind of couple that decided not to meet but melt in the middle.
That song does what Lucky Stone does best, both celebrate and examine the great experiment of human partnership with a mix of clear-eyed directness and wistful daydream. It's the kind of record only a real couple in real love could make, not just because it takes an expert to nail the topic but because those sentiments are only this convincing when they're rendered with Lucky Stone's level of musical balance.
Its 11 songs of organic folk and pop are a lesson in compatibility. When Paradise and LeClair aren't trading off on lead vocal duties they're constantly enmeshing themselves in seamless harmony. Paradise introduces things with "Somewhere Else," breathily articulating their wanderlust over a lighthearted hook: I know that you want to find yourself in a place you've never been/ I know what it's like to want to feel like you don't belong anywhere but somewhere else. But then LeClair follows with the more minor and backbeat-driven "Full Cycle," and a pattern is established of a record never dominated by one gender or tone, the sound of a couple comfortable finding each other and letting go, over and over.
It's not all flowers and butterflies though. Both musicians find a way to deliver sweetness with an edge. Paradise emphasizes the huskiness over the overt silkiness to her voice and when she sings you can feel a resistance in the delivery, never giving in to a weak or sentimental sound. The same goes for LeClair who has a naturally gentle vocal timbre but clips many of his lines with turns of seriousness, aggression, and hard soulfulness.
But the clarity goes deeper than their vocal phrasing. Implicit in many of the songs' themes is a resistance to settling down, a confronting of complacency, and the expression of the very vulnerability that can make true commitment so terrifying. Lyrics are laced with classic hippie-dippie-isms about the search for freedom, hitting the road and metamorphosing cocoons. The artistic impulse bursts everywhere in the basic will to unshackle. And yet, at every turn they reaffirm their devotion to each other through the exquisite wholeness of their music.
Please sit next to me 'cause I need your words/ They lift me up, higher than I was before. It's a brave line, without artifice or melodrama. It's exactly why many first-time listeners will undoubtedly think they've just heard a country record, when all they've really heard was plain-spokenness.
It might seem a bit cliche to harp on the harmony motif in a record by a married couple, but I keep coming back to it with The Marvins because it's the very balancing act itself that makes Lucky Stone such an affecting album. It's the intelligence behind the choices that find yins for every yang: sweetness is presented with strength; production is thought-out, but organic; sounds are warm but deliver a bright sound featuring everything from glockenspiels to saxophones.
The pacing is built for multiple listens so that the poignant "Lucky #3" segues into the whistling whimsy of Mr. Foolish (a tune so jovial and timeless it sounds like it was written for Kermit the Frog), or the widescreen acoustic guitar instrumental "Pastoral Reel" is followed up by the Randy Newman-esque album closer "Rudy Ruby," which punctuates a somewhat ponderous album playfully with its clip-clop percussion, honky-tonk piano and LeClair's train-whistle falsetto.
Lucky Stone manages to be all things. Frankly romantic. Freshly classic. Sincerely clever. Sometimes the songs have a lot of space in them, not to mention concern. Others feel like new additions to the old standards, of joy rendered with steely craft. But for all its back-and-forth balancing, it's the constants that give it its truth. There is always an acoustic guitar. There is always a Marvin singing.