Long ago and oh so far away

Storyhill dig through pop’s back catalogue for amazing duets

Katie Wilber

Fresh off the success of their last album, “Dovetail,” Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson have done it again.

“Duotones: A Tribute to Duos of the ’70s” recalls an era of tie-dye shirts, peasant blouses, peace signs and protests. Cunningham and Hermanson, also known as Storyhill, recorded songs from such famous pairs as Steely Dan, Simon and Garfunkel, Hall and Oates and Loggins and Messina.

The variations and difficulty of Storyhill’s harmonies always garner recognition, and the dozen songs Cunningham and Hermanson selected highlight that talent even more.

Their distinctive voices and guitar-playing styles give them leeway with both the vocals and accompaniments.

In their version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” the lower harmony is louder than the one in the original version, switching the listener’s focus to the blended voices instead of the melody. The accompaniment pulls back just enough to give the adapted vocals more attention without getting drowned out. The subtle changes make it a Storyhill tune instead of a note-for-note cover song.

Phenomenal vocal ranges help Storyhill pull off songs such as the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Their voices soar to heights nobody should be able to reach that easily, but hitting those notes was probably the simplest part of the whole album.

To select only 12 songs from an era known for great music is not a task to be taken lightly. Tender love songs follow ballads on the tragedies of adulthood; songs that everyone knows at least half the lyrics to slide in between lesser-known masterpieces.

The official release date of “Duotones” is spring 2005, but Peppermint Records has come to the rescue of those who can’t wait. The compact disc is available online or at Storyhill concerts, and Storyhill’s tour brings it back to the Midwest in November, after a stop in Minneapolis in July.

Storyhill’s Minnesota roots run deep; Cunningham and Hermanson went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and have played everywhere from the heart of the Twin Cities to way up on the North Shore.

This recording that pays homage to great duos also lets a local duo in on the fun. Joel Stitzel and Chuck Tomlinson, co-hosts of Radio K’s “Cosmic Slop,” wrote the liner notes for Storyhill’s 12th disc, and somehow summed up a decade in a page and a half.

Storyhill has brought ’70s music to a generation that only hears it on the oldies station, and “Duotones” is reason enough to pull those old records out of the attic.