Two Gallants
Wed Dec 22
Meow Meow
320 SE 2nd

Listening to pioneering jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton in the tour van. Thanking John Fahey, the iconoclastic, eccentric guitarist who married traditional finger picking styles to a host of unlikely genres, in your CD liner notes. These are activities one would associate with a 46-year-old roots music artist. But a pair of 23-year-old bucks? Yup. Yet it makes sense if you do the math, says singer-guitarist Adam Stephens, one half of San Francisco duo Two Gallants, as he and drummer Tyson Vogel sail along the highway with Jelly Roll banging away in the background.

"We see each other pretty much every day," Stephens says of Vogel, his friend since kindergarten. "We're becoming the same person." And 23 plus 23 does equal 46.

Actually, these clues don't seem so odd once you've sampled the Gallants' 2004 debut, The Throes (Alive Records). Critics have likened the duo to folk-rock giants such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but upon closer inspection, the former comparison seems to stem primarily from Stephens' facility on harmonica, and the latter to a knack for penning cheery couplets like, "It ain't no difference which way I smile/ I ain't good lookin' from a quarter mile." To these ears, Stephens' voice recalls John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats at his most unhinged, while the ferocity with which Two Gallants render their compositions conjures the devil-at-my-heels clamor of blues-punk greats the Gun Club circa 1981's Fire of Love.

One aspect of the Gallants' artistry that distinguishes The Throes is a willingness to write from viewpoints other than the masculine first person. The harrowing epic "The Train That Stole My Man" could have sprung from the seasoned pen of Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn, while the title track finds an omniscient narrator detailing a gruesome scene of domestic violence in close quarters ("He's got the kind of love that never shows"). Themes of loss and heartbreak also recur throughout their work, but we'll skip the analysis of Two Gallants' abandonment issues. Besides, they'll always have each other.