Elkin’s disc begins with a laugh and the playful melody of “Jesse Likes Birds,” but the songs that struck me most on her CD are the softer, more introspective ones, the best of which make you feel as if you’re listening in on her private thoughts. “The Things We’re Afraid of” is one of several standouts, but the tracks on this remarkable folk outing range only from good to great.
Ditto the unadorned and wholly acoustic Schmidt CD. It relies mostly just on his voice, guitar and songs, which turn out to be more than enough to grab you. There’s a bit of humor here, a bit of politics, but mostly the songs are personal and pensive. Consider, for example, “Houses Sing,” a song Schmidt wrote while house hunting, a process that he says has a lot less to do with finding a place to live than with “browsing your inner neighborhoods for signs of…commitments to place, commitments to path, and commitments to another person.”
Elkin and Schmidt both sing mostly original material on these discs, but each of them serves up a fine cover version. Elkin delivers Dar Williams’s “Iowa” while Schmidt takes on Bob Dylan’s classic “Buckets of Rain.” Like all first-rate covers, both of these readings do more than reprise the original; they add to our understanding of it.