Almanac, the second album from Brooklyn’s Widowspeak, features full, traditional rock-band instrumentation, but at the core, the band remains a duo: Vocalist Molly Hamilton’s commanding coo and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas’s sinewy, layered playing comprise the weathered beacon around which the twangy sweep of their sound eddies. The style from their self-titled debut — lush, sultry, laced with a strangely dark touch of ’50s nostalgia — remains largely intact on Almanac. The first time around, though, the pair took a more stripped down approach, whereas Almanac steps forward confidently with a fuller sound and more ambitious arrangements.
Album opener “Perennials” swells and dips with Hamilton’s lilting, breathy melody and Thomas’s sparkling guitar textures, his buoyant lead line riding cascading, tumbling toms. On “Dyed in the Wool,” the album’s rollicking spirit peeks through — it’s a sturdy, Southwestern-tinged desert rocker with quivering, sustained organ and almost fanciful, slip-sliding guitar riffs. Hamilton has a hushed, vaporous vocal delivery which has led to frequent, not unfair, comparisons to Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. Her voice is lovely and affecting, but her underappreciated gift as a vocalist is her sense of controlled power: In “Devil Knows,” the strummy, two-chord verse kicks into a surprisingly raw, stomping chunky-chorded chorus, and Hamilton flips with ease from airy and meandering to dark and smoky. It’s that contrast — warm, rich playing and lush production on songs with a lurking enigmatic, dark alley mysteriousness — that make Almanac such a beguiling, rewarding listen.