The Rough & Tumble is the indie folk duo of Mallory Graham and Scott Tyler. Of all the Facebook band descriptions I’ve seen through the years, theirs is among my favorite, as they call their sound “boutique folk and dumpster-Americana.”
I’m not entirely sure how to decipher that description, but that doesn’t matter one iota. What matters is that their folky sound is terrific. I’m particularly fond of their latest album, “We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn’t Know,” released in February.
Graham and Tyler wrote all of the songs together, and because they’re mighty thorough with their online presence, The Rough & Tumble Bandcamp page includes all the lyrics and inspiration behind every track. One of my favorites is “Tiny Moses,” which they describe as “how to transport what you don’t need anymore safely away.” This is one they sing together, and it opens with harmonica and horns. “Warm in a blanket, water and an aspirin and you’re gone/Oh, a tiny Moses, floating away toward no one. Love of time, not of blood.” It’s a lovely song that also features Graham playing an accordion.
Here’s the video for “Tiny Moses”
The “We Made” album opens with “Wildfire,” which was written after the 2016 election and during the wildfires that hit the Southeast in November 2016. “When we lived in Nashville, after election day/Lights were too loud, music too soft/When the smokies went ablaze, we headed to our mountain town, can’t find a signal for the haze/Can nobody hear us now?” The list of instruments Graham plays on this one is staggering and amusing, and it includes something called a banjulele (a banjo-ukulele hybrid), mouth trumpet, bolts sliding down a washtub, wine bottle shakers, kazoo and wooden bowl on the floor, among others.
Then there’s the song “Barney,” which is, thankfully, not about a purple dinosaur, but rather about “leaving behind everything but the hangover.” Graham’s voice is at its loveliest on this one, full of lonesome longing as she sings about the city of Savannah and offers up apologies with a quiver in a song that’s as sad as they come. Translation: I love it!
I can’t tell you where The Rough & Tumble call home because it depends on the day. She’s originally from Pennsylvania, and he’s from California, but since 2015, they’ve been a mobile outfit, living in their 16-foot camper along with their dog named Puddle. Their other pooch, a rescue named Butter, passed away last year and is sorely missed but very fondly remembered. These days The Rough & Tumble is a pack of three, and they’ve hit just about everywhere their tires will take them. The Rough & Tumble have, in fact, been touring nationally since 2011. They upped the ante four years ago by pulling up stakes in Tennessee and North Carolina and have no plans to leave their nomadic life.
I could end there with a gentle but firm nudge for you go see them on Friday night in Brownfield, but there’s a little more to the story of The Rough & Tumble. There’s a section on their website called “From Inside Our Heads,” and on Oct. 24, they posted an entry called “You Belong to Me,” and it reads like the script of a film you’d for sure want to see and that you know would have a tremendous soundtrack. You should carve out a few minutes to spend at theroughandtumble.com and read the whole thing (it’s short) because it’s magnificent, but I’ll share a few key parts now.
“You Belong To Me” traces the history of Graham and Tyler first meeting in 2007 when both were attending a “school of rock” for a semester on Martha’s Vineyard. She was 21 and he a year older, and their first conversation was in the back of a van that was taking them and some other students to the music school. But they didn’t immediately fall in love and ride off into the proverbial sunset. “We spent the next few years following each other to Asheville, then Nashville. Scott dated my friends. I married a different person I met on the Vineyard – wherein Scott was the Best Man,” writes Graham.
On her honeymoon, she wrote postcards to Tyler. “Nothing special, nothing secretive. Just a friendly bond between two people who pal around and sometimes play music together. Except that Scott saved that postcard. In fact, Scott saved most things I gave him.” Can you stand it? It took a few years, a few broken relationships and a few other obstacles for the two to finally realize they were meant to be together, and not just as a musical duo.
Graham and Scott found themselves within an hour of that same ferry earlier this month and decided to pay the Vineyard a revisit only to find much had changed, but that hardly mattered. “We don’t mind so much, it’s good to have our meeting places as changed as we are from 11 years ago. And it was good to walk the beach with our little dog, Pud. This time – finally – with the right person.”
The Rough & Tumble plays about 150 shows a year, and while the duo’s love story is indeed a grand tale, go see them for the music. The new record is terrific as are their previous releases. But don’t mind me if I get a little starry-eyed with a cartoon heart throbbing out of my chest with the knowledge that it was music that brought these two together in the first place.
8 p.m. Friday. Stone Mountain Arts Center, 295 Dugway Road, Brownfield, $20. stonemountainartscenter.com