By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
Hardened and Tempered isn’t just a clever name for a folk duo: it’s the lived experience of Austin-based duo Kristin Davidson and Carolyn Phillips. The pair are ardent activists, working deep in the trenches for those downtrodden in society as a lawyer and nurse, respectively. For their sophomore album, Hold the Line, Hardened and Tempered zero in on what makes us hold out for hope even as the world gets scarier around us.
The album begins deep in the abyss of frustration and loneliness with “Counting the Cars” and “Breaker Breaker” — a huge departure from the pair’s debut release, The Trailer Sessions. Jarring at first, as Hold the Line unfolds itself, we see that it provides a roadmap out of that abyss thematically and sonically: as strong as Davison and Phillips are on their own, the songs on Hold the Line really take flight when their harmonies kick in.
“Beer Bottles and Broken Hearts” is perhaps the best snapshot of what Hardened and Tempered are exploring with this album: with its broken optimism, the song shows our narrator taking a moment to reflect, possibly with a release from their sense of hopelessness.
Meanwhile, “Hold the Line,” a song of fortitude in the face of despair, comes from a place of experience — the week Hardened and Tempered released their first album, Davidson successfully argued a case in front of the US Supreme Court. As the album cruises to its conclusion, “Crossroads” is the strongest distillation of the album’s themes: grappling with that fear of change, hoping that it will take you where you need to be, yet mourning what you may lose in the process.
While these narratives feel grand, Hardened and Tempered are sure to tie them to individual characters — “The Republican River” and “When the Harvest Comes” are tales of environmental justice zeroed in on the everyday people who are impacted by larger forces. Phillips, who has a PhD in Nursing, focuses on the connection between music, storytelling and healing: small wonder, then, that two people who have devoted their lives to advocating for people have an intrinsic understanding of what makes us tick.