New South Wales singer-songwriter Sarah Humphreys and her accomplished partner Kristen Lee Morris have proven with multiple solo albums respectively that they have a masterful understanding of Americana music. A strong vein of storytelling pulses through their body of work, and Two Lovers, their latest album as duo Eagle & The Wolf, is certainly no different, even as it diverges from well-worn alt-country territory.
The couple live and work in the scenic Blue Mountains region of New South Wales, a landscape lush in flora and fauna, boasting sunsets that cast whirls of blue, apricot, and violet over the horizon. It is a place that provides space and inspiration, evident in the feng shui of lightness, space and harmony on each song. The title track of their newest album, “Two Lovers” is the sonic equivalent of this organic, elemental light, sun, rock, earth, and space. “Stand here right with me/We’ll hold on for more/May we find ourselves on the highest blue mountain,” they sing. “Two lovers take their time/They don’t worry about what’s left behind.”
“Some songs came easily, and with some it was like pulling teeth, really,” confesses Humphreys. “We had to work hard at this album. The writing was easier than the recording of it. The first album that we did was so easy. We had our older kids at that stage and they were old enough for us to leave them for the three days [of recording]. We now have four kids… so we had to find little snippets during the day and then go and look after the kids. But we just kept at it and little by little, we pieced this album together over probably 18 months or so.”
As Eagle & The Wolf, the duo released their first, self-titled album in 2016. The intention was to release a second album sooner, but life intervened; their family expanded, they got married, moved house, and made solo albums which ultimately put Eagle & The Wolf on hiatus. Relentless touring had also impacted on the couple’s health and harmony, and the making of Two Lovers was not without creative conflict (Humphreys admits to a few walk-outs). Their first album had earned them support slots with The Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Parr, Kim Richie, Archie Roach and Australia’s queen of country, Kasey Chambers. It’s synergistic that Chambers produced Humphreys’ 2014 solo effort, New Moon.
“I’ve known Kasey since I was about 20 and she’s always been a good friend and taken me under her wing,” says Humphreys. “She’s taken us on tour with her and we hang out, our kids are friends. She’s on the Central Coast still. Anytime we can see each other we do, and we send each other pictures. She’s a real sweetheart. I think we’d always love to work with Kase, but now Kris and I, we’re producing our own stuff. With this last album we learnt so much about producing and engineering and we really enjoyed that.”
Humphreys and Morris were both born on New South Wales’ Central Coast, but moved to Blue Mountains after Humphreys’ father passed away on her birthday in February, 2018. One month later, they loaded their belongings into a van and made the big move.
“Kris and I both grew up in Long Jetty. I don’t think either one of us ever felt like we fit in there; it was a very beachy town and it felt like we were born in the wrong place. We’ve always loved the Blue Mountains,” Humphreys says of that decision.
Now that they’re somewhat settled in, the duo were able to record a large chunk of the album in their new home, and are in the process of building a home studio. Humphreys is audibly excited by the prospect of further engineering, producing, and recording within their own dedicated space. The lush sound on Two Lovers was achieved with the support of Jy-Perry Banks (pedal steel guitar), Jeff McCormack (bass), Stefano Cosentino (bass), Matt Cowley (drums and percussion), and Annie Leeth (strings).
“We recorded a couple of tracks with our friend, engineer Josh Schuberth at his home studio in the Blue Mountains [and] we recorded at a friend’s house up in Mount Victoria, also in the Blue Mountains. The rest of it we recorded at home,” Humphreys says. “We didn’t have a studio then, but we’re building one now so we can have a separate space. We mostly recorded it ourselves; Kris and I were the producers.”
On Two Lovers, the steely strum of acoustic guitar rambles along loyally like a canine companion, familiar with the route and just enjoying the togetherness: voice, instrument, harmony. “Something Good” picks up the tempo, introducing a rambunctious mood. Humphreys takes the lead, promising to reveal the beauty in every day. She hands the mic to Morris for twangy ballad “Darlin'” – which more than deserves a porch, a worn pair of riding boots and a flannel shirt.
“Kris and I are both very different musically, so it’s got bits and pieces of us both in there, and these little magical moments when songs just came to us from a very special place,” explains Humphreys. “We didn’t question it; if we thought it was good, we put it on and didn’t worry about it not fitting.”
The mood meanders toward psychedelia on bluesy, sunburnt “Mescaline,” layering woozy electric guitar over their interplaying intoxicated harmonies.
“That’s one that Kris brought to me mostly finished. He brought me a little demo; I heard it and I was like, ‘Wow, that has to be on the album!’ We’re very encouraging of each other. I was like, ‘Don’t take that for your solo band, put it on our album!’” Humphreys remembers. “I added to that song during the recording with some dreamy, howly sort of vocals. ‘Gimme Shelter’ by Rolling Stones has this amazing singer in the background who’s just wailing and it’s so great. I’m in the background but I feel involved in the song; like a wolf howling, Kris said. I love that song. That came from the depths of Kris’s imagination.”
Closing track “Ray” is an ode – not to the sun – but to Ray LaMontagne. It’s gorgeously bittersweet, like a rainstorm when you planned to go for a walk.
“When we first met, Kris and I, we would stay up late after a songwriter’s night or a gig and we’d listen to Ray LaMontagne. It was a beautiful time in our relationship,” Humphreys recalls. “We both had kids from previous relationships so we didn’t get to have much of a dating experience because we were full-time parents, but every now and again we’d get time to ourselves, maybe once a week, and we’d stay up all night, loving being together, talking and laughing. After being in relationships with other people that hadn’t worked, it was so incredible to find a person like that. We were so excited to be with each other. We were both big fans of Ray LaMontagne before we met – he’s one of our all-time favourite artists. His records are so beautiful and have been with us through a lot, both going through different things in different places in the world, then coming together.”
LaMontagne is but one of the sonic influences identifiable on the duo’s album. Their sound patchworks the classic American folk-country of James Taylor (and his wonderful, homesick “Carolina In My Mind”), the melancholy beauty of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds And Rust,” and the romantic, nostalgic Mama Cass and John Denver duet version of “Leaving On A Jet Plane.”
As a solo artist, Humphreys’ output has been prolific, her most recent LP Strange Beauty released in 2019. Whilst her sound unquestionably traverses folk-country ground, Morris rode his solo work into bluesy Americana territory on Ruins (2014) and Hillbilly Blues (2018).
“I started writing songs when I was about eight,” Humphreys says. “No one paid that much attention, but it was something I always did. I was always writing songs, singing and playing music. I’ve always written from a very truthful and heartfelt place. I put it all out there in my songs.”
Here on Two Lovers, the history and honesty of a couple deeply in love – with life, and with each other – is tangible in every nuanced note. In these fraught times, is serves as a reminder to all listeners that putting it all out there for love pays creative dividends.