It’s amazing just how well a colorful and poignant musical narrative can travel. A legendary 79-year-old folk gem by Woody Guthrie chronicling the journey and toil of the Grapes of Wrath era migrant workers, “Pastures of Plenty” has been covered over the decades by everyone from Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan to Peter, Paul & Mary and Alison Krauss & Union Station.
Yet its stanzas have never come to life as vibrantly, or met the present moment so powerfully, as they do in the graceful yet gritty, lilting yet emotionally urgent hands of husband and wife duo Marc Copely (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Kirsten Agresta Copely (harp). I first became aware of the couple’s seamless intuitive artistry via a very different project – Kirsten’s glorious full-length new age debut album Around The Sun. Though the collection was billed as a solo recording showcasing her exquisite string artistry, Marc – as I wrote at the time – “produced, engineered and mixed every nuance and detail to pure, pin drop perfection.”
That project was designed as a unique 365-day journey – and while definitely in a slightly more raw, Americana vein, that “road vibe” continues on the couple’s debut track as Harp & Plow. Kirsten laces her dreamy, lilting and hopeful harp lines through Marc’s vocals as they express Guthrie’s impactful, image rich and geographically specific poetry with both gentle nuance and impassioned, tension building energy.
Their high and low, ebb and flow dynamics and subtle African and Latin rhythms make you feel like you’re on the long trip with the couple, the migrants Guthrie wrote about and – if we’re imaginative enough to apply the story to modern times – the people and industries affected by the global pandemic. Artfully helping the Copelys bring their contemporary, easy rolling vision of the tune to life are bassist Zev Katz (Hall & Oates, James Taylor), percussionist Ben Wittman (Sting, Paul Simon) and pedal steel guitarist Rich Hinman (k.d. lang).
Overall, “Pastures of Plenty” marks an auspicious beginning for this new phase of the duo’s longtime partnership as the cleverly named Harp & Plow.