The Valentine Sessions is a new album from Seattle based Folk/ Americana duo, BackYard Living. The group is comprised of highly experienced musicians, Kelly Kristjanson (guitar/drums) and Vicki Ault (violin). These two artists met in 2005 while taking a songwriting course at the University of Washington. Vicki, a retired music school teacher, has some impressive credentials, having backed up iconic musicians such as Kenny G and Luciano Pavarotti in live performances. For his part, Kelly Kristjanson has many solo releases under his belt and a long history of successful musical endeavors. Kelly and Vicki also worked together previously on the album, Granite Falls in 2007. As you may or may not have guessed, The Valentine Sessions were mostly recorded live on Valentine’s Day (though some parts were added later). It should also be noted that although this is group is a duo, banjo player Lyle Ronglien performs on the track Pike Place Market, (named after a local Seattle tourist attraction). The Valentine Sessions is scheduled to be officially released this Fall. The album’s first single, Pike Place Market, is awesome, and the banjo gives it a bit of an “Old West” vibe. I could easily have seen this track being used in classic Clint Eastwood films like Every Which Way But Loose. Another stand out entry on this album is Thunderbird, which is carried by Vicki’s stellar violin play. I’m not sure if it’s an effect or what, but the tone of the violin also strikes me as vaguely futuristic and surprisingly rocking. Everything has its place in a recording, but make no mistake, Vicki’s violin is the magic ingredient in at least a few of these tracks. The vocals have that classic folk quality. Kelly is a solid singer, and his voice is just rough enough around the edges to work with this genre. My favorite performance of his is on Puerto Rico, a genuinely powerful song that really pays homage to the place. The emotional aspect is subtle, but you can still feel it. Little Dove is another notable jam. It has some nice hooks, a long runtime and one of the catchier choruses. Overall, this is a very heartfelt, “earthy” and sincere album, made by veteran artists who demonstrate great artistic synergy.