The backgrounds of singer and lutenist George Xylouris and drummer Jim White couldn’t seem much more different on paper, but over the last decade they’ve honed one of the most effective and powerful partnerships in underground music. There’s nothing calculated or clever about the duo, which veers towards the primal in the way it wades through original tunes steeped in the dark folk traditions of Crete. But if one listens to the sometimes genre-agnostic connection they share on their latest album The Sisypheans it’s clear that their bond transcends everything but sheer musicality.
Xylouris grew up in a legendary musical family and eventually exported his Cretan roots to Australia, where he formed the traditional Xylouris Ensemble in the early 90s. He sings with a brooding gusto countered by the brittle twang of his long-necked laouto, conjuring an irresistibly weighty presence. Since forging his reputation in the Dirty Three, White has worked with artists as diverse as Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, PJ Harvey, and Will Oldham. His loose, deceptively shambolic playing can bring structural focus to the most outward bound sensibility, or he can loosen up the most tightly-clenched situations.
Together Xylouris and White engage in a brotherly push-and-pull, basking in a shared sense of time’s elasticity, while rooting their sounds in earthy, folk-driven directness. There’s an inescapable Mediterranean sorrow coursing through the music, but the performances are so bare-knuckled in their realness—while still virtuosic in their sense of proportion— that everything builds into a far more primal experience, beyond style or geography.