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Nomadic folkies the Lowest Pair to drop pair of new albums

The Lowest Pair

The Lowest Pair

Born in Farmington, Minnesota, Palmer T. Lee of banjo duo the Lowest Pair grew up on the acoustic tapes of Jerry Garcia and British folk artist David Grissman. Eventually, he was introduced to country giants Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, and later old-time folk music. 

“When I was in Portland a while ago, I found this whole record of all Minnesota fiddle tunes," Lee says. "I slowly discovered there’s this rich musical history of folk music in our region that I wasn’t aware of growing up." 

Kendl Winter, the other half of the Lowest Pair, is an Olympia, Washington by way of Arkansas resident, and the two felt an instant connection when they formed the Lowest Pair in 2013. They've made the road their home ever since, splitting time between Olympia and Minneapolis during brief pauses from touring. 

Speaking with Lee by phone, his smooth baritone oscillates between tangential storytelling and describing the process that went into creating the Lowest Pair's two new albums. The releases of Uncertain as it is Uneven and Fern Girl & Ice Man will be celebrated Thursday at the Cedar Cultural Center.

The double release concept came more from necessity than ambition. Lee and Winter began recording with Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett in January of 2015, and released their last album, The Sacred Heart Sessions, the following month.

“We ended up touring with the new album [The Sacred Heart Sessions], so we didn’t have a chance to finish the recordings," Lee says. "By the time we got back to Minnesota, we had a dozen new songs. We were in this sweet spot where you’re familiar with the songs enough to play them, but before you fall into this mindless pattern when you’re just playing them.”

When the recordings picked up again, Simonett was too busy with his other projects, so the reins were handed over to Erik Koskinen. Rather than separate the unfinished batches of songs by chronological order, Lee and Winter decided to divide them into albums based on vibes. 

The pieces on Fern Girl & Ice Man play around with the banjos and arrangements; the duo also created ambience with wine glasses and kids toys that Koskinen had laying around his studio. Uncertain as it is Uneven is more like a reset button; the songs represent the hours invested in the music and the callouses earned.

Uncertain is a rambling yet focused album, unrestrained and controlled, but at its core, it's about love. "Keweenaw Flower," the first single off of Uncertain, braids Lee's and Winter's voices together, as the lyrics bleed seductively over warm acoustic instruments. 

The two new albums come on the heels of a busy 2015 marked by constant touring. The Lowest Pair scored perhaps their biggest audience at September's Festival Palomino, the Americana music fest in Shakopee, Minnesota, curated by Trampled by Turtles. 

“Playing a festival like that is really, really exciting, but also really nerve-wracking,” Palmer laughingly recalls. “I’m still trying to get comfortable on stage at places like that. I find myself almost blacking out the set; that definitely happened at Palomino. I don’t remember being on stage. The afterglow is what I remember — it's beautiful to be a part of something like that."

Expect future output from the Lowest Pair to be further informed by Lee and Winter's lust for the road. 

“The experience of being in new places is exciting. You find yourself in really rad towns where cool stuff is happening. But then, there are people who don’t ever leave and they develop this strong sense of pride." Lee says. “That’s beautiful and also tragic. The more I travel, the more I find beautiful people doing beautiful things. It curbs my pride. I wish more people would move outside of their comfort zones. It would make for more interesting conversation." 

The Lowest Pair

With: Adam Kiesling.

Where: Cedar Cultural Center.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thu. April 28.

Tickets: $12-$15; more info here.