By ANA CRISTINA ESPIN
Under a warm, yellow spotlight, dressed in grey t-shirts and faded jeans, the folk pop duo known simply as Alex and Janel sang Tuesday night at the Underground with hauntingly beautiful country-and-blues-infused harmonies and feisty guitar licks.
“They were amazing,” said Kaylah Rodriguez, a junior art history major. “I’d never heard of them. I’m glad we do [these concerts].”
Echoing the enthusiasm was Samantha Carlson, a business major.
“Loved it,” she said. “This [performance] exceeded my expectations. They had an interesting style.”
There was little doubt among those present that the music in the air was something rare; the mark of two exceptional performers destined to share a stage. Tuesday’s performance marked Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth’s second visit to the University of Mary Washington.
“We play a lot of campuses, and this is one we look forward to coming back to because it’s just cool how you guys have music on campus like this,” Brumel said.
“A lot of times the schools [have] a weekly arts [event], but it’s sort of an afterthought in the dining hall. It’s really nice that Mary Washington goes out of its way like this… You can tell the kids enjoy it.”
Hailing from New Jersey, Brumel and Elizabeth sing like angels the world has roughed up a bit. Elizabeth is a low alto with a surprisingly powerful voice. Brumel, her husky counterpart, served up an appealing high tenor. As they blended their voices, the result was exquisite. Their music hinted at longing and possessed an edge.
Freshman Sarah Etherton described it as “heart-wrenching.”
Elizabeth said she draws much of her songs’ inspiration from personal experience, whereas Brumel delighted more in wordplay.
“If I find a phrase that I sort of like singing, something that I sort of just like the consonance of, it’s easier for me. I can jump off from there,” he said.
The creative partners met about five years ago while working at a day camp for the arts.
“He had a singer-songwriter album [at the time],” Elizabeth said, “and I was doing big band jazz.”
In respect to their musical tastes, Brumel cited his admiration for performers like Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. Elizabeth said Etta James and Bob Dylan were among her greatest influences growing up. Both were quick to add, however, that their list of influential musicians includes hundreds, from the Beatles to Nickel Creek.
Many of the duo’s compositions are poetic portraits of American culture and of relationships between men and women. Their debut album, “The Mill Stone,” is currently available through iTunes. They also plan to release three new singles next month.