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Down in Lake Toba to Pray

Lake Toba
Lake Toba

Consider the humpback whale. Small pods separated by a million gallons of briny seawater, seeking kinship in endless blue. It is widely acknowledged that the aquatic mammals sing to one another. Using echolocation, then, two whales set miles apart can find each other and continue their song in unison. In a vast sea of musical voices, this is not an uncommon occurrence. But what likelihood is there that these two voices, drawn together from far-off reaches, will intertwine in perfect harmony? Here on land, the members of Lake Toba face down those odds.

Liat Lis and Kyle McGonegle — comprising the old-time folk duo — are a reminder that sometimes, musicians are made for each other. Beyond the lush, characteristic two-part vocal harmonies that carve a wake through Lake Toba’s music, there is songwriting and performance talent at work that Eugene has not seen since the string-band heyday of the previous decade. 

At once glistening with all the fresh appeal of a mountain snowpack in spring, Tova and McGonegle’s arresting brand of folk invokes the epic expanse of this wild country while facing simultaneously inward, to the windy, wide-open spaces in our hearts. Instrumentally, banjo and guitar never sounded so at home side by side. We’re talking about thoughtful arrangements here, supervised by four immaculate ears.

Throughout the duo’s eponymous debut album, released in August, there is not one instance of toes being stepped on, or overt business or vision in conflict. The result is refreshing and altogether unique. A sound that drags us back to clear water with languid ease, providing hope that harmony does exist in this world — we just need to go out and find it.

Lake Toba plays with Steep Ravine and Spiller 9 pm Friday, Nov. 18, at WOW Hall; $7 adv., $10 door.