Where the Dark and the Light Mingle, the debut album from San Francisco’s Gutter Swan, is a song cycle of covers from across what might be called the Americana tradition. Themes of yearning run through all of the tracks, tinged with the seduction and aftermath of indulgence.

The arrangements are deceptively simple. Loryn Barbeau employs the slightest twang in voice which suits the song choices well. Guitarist Steve Egelman pulls gorgeous melodies out of a six-string.

Wayside/Back in Time and Oxycontin Blues (and later in the album the medley of Carole King’s Way over Yonder and Joan Osborne’s Saint Theresa) delve into the desire to be back in a time before addiction took hold. Simple Man gives us just the heart of the rocker from Lynyrd Skynyrd debut album, transforming the plea for a child’s happiness almost into a prayer. Appropriate given the line, “All that you have is your soul.”

All that need be said of C’mon Billy is that Loryn and Steve do PJ Harvey proud.

The first of two Richard Buckner covers, Oscar Hummel, features another straightforwardly beautiful vocal that belies the violence of the lyrics of a lost traveler who mistakenly finds the home of his enemy. (A search reveals that the lyrics are from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, a collection that consists of stories told on headstones.)

This is followed by Beekeeper, a song possibly narrated by a less dead Oscar Hummel ‘You all say I’ve crossed a line, but the sad fact is I’ve lost my mind…All I want is to be left alone, tact from me is like blood from a stone.’

I’m not sure I have a favorite track on the album, but Vocal (supplied by Norwegians Madrugada) is the tale of a possible suicide to which Loryn brings these breathless phrases. Just listen to how she sings ‘Dare not walk through the liiiiight,’ in which light is both salvation and death, howled and then almost whispered as the song ends. *Shudder*

The headlong rush into desire and addiction is best expressed here by their approach to TV on the Radio’s Wolf Like Me. The harmonies in which our narrator is a (were?) wolf seducing red riding hood balance on some sweet fingerpicking. The faster pace on this song is a nice balance to Vocal’s near dirge-like pace.

Way over Yonder/Saint Theresa positions Saint Theresa, another song of an addicted hooker longing to be on the other side of whatever life is offering against a more ambiguous longing for a simple escape. Way down in the hollow is a long way from Way Over Yonder.

gs-wtdatlmWhere the Dark and the Light Mingle concludes with Richard Buckner’s Desire, in which our narrator is done with their last partner, having said too much and too drunkenly, ‘shot my insides out with grief and Mr. Kessler’ and just needs to hit the road. Fed up with life and death and lust and addiction, the road beckons.

Gutter Swan’s two members capture the gauntlet of life, death, love, need, and bit of the supernatural, and so many of the various ways we subvert and support these things. As a collection of songs that work individually, the album succeeds, but it excels as a story. Folk blues, country, singer/storyteller songs woven together. Using such disparate and desperate sources makes something far more compelling than the individual tracks.