Guitarists and vocalists share a unique bond when coexisting as a duo, and the exposure present without a rhythm section contrasts ominous vulnerability with ample space to thrive. Vocalist Sienna Dahlen and guitarist Bill Coon double down on this sparseness with Balladextrous, and make the most of this intimate, dreamy format.
My favourite duo albums throughout history tend to playfully eschew traditional roles of melodic interpretation and harmonic accompaniment, and Balladextrous walks this line brilliantly. Coon’s chordal work and melodic content never leave listeners unsure of song forms or harmony, but he wisely avoids bludgeoning anyone with the kinds of dense accompaniment weaker guitarists may hide behind in this context.
Dahlen has a playful sense of rhythm and phrasing that is both confident and interactive. This is a treat to hear applied to jazz standards, as it breathes new life into classic repertoire. Consciously or intuitively, the duo treats upbeat numbers like Happy Talk and I’m In The Mood for Love with a playful vibe, while sticking more to the bare-bones structures of pieces like Too Late Now and I Get Along Without You Very Well. Contrasting choices like these may not be predetermined, which is yet another testament to the intuition these two musicians possess.
Give Balladexterous a listen through quality headphones with your eyes closed, then try it again tomorrow while ironing or meal-prepping. This album promises to elevate in all contexts!