On the debut album from Striking Matches, one is forced to reconcile the guitar-slinging skills of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman with the duo's softer, coffee-shop tendencies. Nothing But the Silence swings wildly between highs and lows. It’s an album with no patience for pedestrian.

The first two tracks bring back-to-back uppercuts to anyone hoping to settle in with some cute songs from a harmless looking duo. “Trouble Is as Trouble Does” is a storm hellbent on making the listener stand up and testify. “Make a Liar Out of Me” is sneakier. Davis’ bluesy guitar intro almost lulls you into thinking they’ve backed off. But by the end, Zimmerman is rubbing the ivory from her Gibson's neck with a slide that will surely melt if she didn’t quit after 75 breathtaking seconds. The solo is framed with an extended interlude. The absences of movement foreshadows something big coming, and she delivers.

From there, Striking Matches do indeed back off. The title track is a sparse love song built to showcase their harmonies. Similar arrangements pop up in other places on Nothing But the Silence. “When the Right One Comes Along” and “Like Lovers” both push the two vocalists out from behind their guitars. Their vulnerabilities as singers and storytellers — not their musicianship — make the album.

Davis and Zimmerman will hear Civil Wars comparisons, and that’s accurate. But they hold the unique ability to lean into country's more dangerous edge whenever they see fit. Don't believe their suburban good looks, these two 20-somethings can cut deep with a song or a solo.

“Missing You Tonight” picks the pace back up with a crunching guitar riff and Zimmerman’s delicate vocals. But three minutes later they’re back on the floor, closing the album with an unmistakable love song called “God and You.” Fans of true country albums — songs written and sequenced with purpose — will appreciate this debut. It reminds one why they call some country singers "artists."

Key Tracks: "Trouble Is as Trouble Does," "Make a Liar Out of Me," "Hanging on a Lie"

Did You Know?: Davis and Zimmerman are competitive with their guitar skills. One is always trying to outplay the other.

Country Artists to Watch in 2015

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