The collaboration is breathtaking, as Parker and Farrar swap lead vocal duties on the album's eight covers, each of which is followed by a brief, palate-cleansing instrumental. Farrar's voice has always carried a heavy melancholy, which grows even more intense here, as he adds a devastating weariness to Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" and a dejected heartbreak to A.P. Carter's "East Virginia Blues."
By contrast, Parker's songs are more reflective. He leads a haunting take on the traditional "Hills of Mexico" that conveys a bitter tale of cowboys cheated out of wages on a buffalo hunt, and his slowed-down, piano-driven version of the Stanley Brothers' "Death Is Only a Dream" bears the tenderness of a lullaby. "Death Songs" ends on a more up-tempo note, with a new, Farrar-penned song, "Buzz & Grind," that blazes with an energy rejuvenated by this new partnership and the exploration into the songs of the past.
-- Catherine P. Lewis