Husband-and-wife duo Whitehorse (Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet) are compelling chameleons, their discography a dizzying genre-hop landing on roots music, cosmic disco, indie guitar pop, and back again. Their latest album I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying is their tribute to traditional country music, a loving nod to the classic if-I-can’t-have-you-know-one-will duets of the forms’ first couples: Johnny and June, George and Tammy, Porter and Dolly. The collection has its roots in McClelland’s and Doucet’s intentions to make a record of country covers during the pandemic; instead, imitation gave way to inspiration, and the couple wrote twelve originals that capture the anxieties, the loneliness, and the uncertainties of love during the lockdown. The results are idiosyncratic, sincere, and endearing, making I’m Not Crying the rare pandemic record that captures just how bizarre it was (is?) living under a canopy of disquiet.
The hillbilly deluxe opener “If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me” epitomizes Whitehorse’s ability to have it both ways, to craft both an homage to the artists they admire and a document of unprecedented events. The song’s chorus delivers a familiar I’m-going-to-drink-my-way-out-of-this-heartbreak trope: “If the loneliness don’t kill me/Then the good times surely will.” But when considered through COVID’s lens, the song becomes more complicated. What’s lethal here? The risk of mingling with others? The vices that have become coping mechanisms? Whatever the threat, the stakes are higher than ever before.
Elsewhere, there are outlaw stompers (“Bet The Farm” and “I Miss The City”) and breakneck Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant throwdowns (“Manitoba Bound”), but the album finds its heart in its gentler material.
“6 Feet Away” the record’s most topical number, laments the prescribed restrictions that kept us just out of arm’s reach in the earliest days of lockdown. “Scared of Each Other” is a catalog of the mundane we took for granted and the angst that threatened to overwhelm.
On other tracks, the more delicate instrumentation intensifies the already uncanny, sometimes surreal subject matter. “Division 5” dives into the ridiculous, as a jilted man files a missing person report for his lost love, only to have the Mountie (yes, Whitehorse is Canadian) answer with a country song of hard truth— sometimes love runs out, and with it, our partner.
Most jarring is “Sanity, TN”, which combines Patsy Cline melodramatics with Porter Wagner’s “Rubber Room” crack-ups, as the speaker, a confined “Yellow Wallpaper”-type, fixes her gaze on a line of ants making their entry under her front door, envious and in awe of their resolve and strength. I don’t think she makes it.
Because of our short-term memories and recency biases, January releases risk falling by the wayside as the year gains traction. I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying is a singular album that deserves to escape that fate.