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My Record of the Week: Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer - Seed of a Pine

http://www.davemcgraw.net     

This is a first album from Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer (pronounced fair) as a duo; I believe they were both established as singer-songwriters before they discovered they were swimming in the same musical stream and I guess the idea is to see if they can make something quite distinctive from this partnership of equals. Well, this album sounds quite distinctive to me, and very enjoyable to boot.

             The first thing you notice is Dave McGraw’s singing on the opening track, So Comes the Day. He’s got a wonderful voice, baritone I would guess, that carries a huge amount of emotion, experience and sincerity. You can’t help but warm to his singing right from the start; it has such a reassuring quality about it that it’s as if he’s putting an arm around your shoulder to tell you that everything will work out just fine. Mandy Fer’s singing is a complementary contrast to that of her partner; though you can hear they have the same sort of musical background in the area where folk meets country, there’s more edge, more of a yearning, to Mandy’s voice when she takes the lead vocal. This being a partnership of equals they each contribute about half the songs on the album and take the lead vocal on their own songs, taking it in turns to lend each other vocal support. Either way round this arrangement works really well though possibly the sweetest moments come when Mandy is singing back-up, fitting her voice to Dave’s style quite beautifully.

            The songs, from either writer, have a degree of enigma about them; there’s a lot of imagery from rural life and from the wide open spaces, lots of references to the sky, to stars, to pine-topped mountains. There’s even a hint of all this connection to the natural world being a spiritual experience in the manner of Native American connection to their landscape. However, there’s also a rootedness in real lives, too. A couple of songs, one from each of them, could well be talking about the development of their musical partnership, though in neither case is this absolutely explicit. One of Dave McGraw’s songs, Seed of a Pine, seems to be dealing with the story of an old lady stuck in a nursing home whilst the modern world hurtles on around her, ripping her own history asunder in the process. Over and again though, it is never quite clear whose voice we’re hearing or which events are being referred to. Perhaps this is purposeful; a lot of songwriters appreciate that it can be a more rewarding experience all round if there is a little mystery in a song, leaving space for each listener to weave their own experience into what they’re hearing.

             The playing and the production is beautiful, rich and enigmatic like the lyrics and with frequent echoes of music that’s come from the desert south west in the last ten years – Howe Gelb, for one, comes to mind but also the likes of Trilobite and Boris and the Saltlicks. Acoustic guitars tend to be to the fore but it’s some wonderfully supple and resonant use of bass that seems to tap into something very deep. It feels like we’re being drawn into some very serious minded quest, a search for truth and purpose, before the final song, Western Sky, resolves everything with the sweetest, most direct song here, an acceptance that finding someone to share love and life with brings peace of mind like nothing else can.

John Davy

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Year 2016

1
Levi Parham
90 pts.
These American Blues
Music Road Records
GC,JBO,TK
2
Martha Fields
86 pts.
Southern White Lies
Independent
BP,BH,FB,JAB,RW,SP
3
Carter Sampson
75 pts.
Wilder Side
Independent/CRS
AN,CRS,JB
4
Anna Elizabeth Laube
65 pts.
Tree
Ahh...Pockets! Records
DH,NC
5
Michael McDermott
60 pts.
Willow Springs
Pauper Sky Records
BK,MM
6
Shovels & Rope
54 pts.
Little Seeds
New West
 
7
Robert Ellis
53 pts.
Robert Ellis
New West Records
DHO
8
Sturgill Simpson
52 pts.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Atlantic Records
JJ,JF
9
Douglas Greer
50 pts.
Baja Louisiana
Zilker Park Records
HDB,ML
10
Lucinda Williams
46 pts.
The Ghosts Of Highway 20
Highway 20 Records
EM
11
Buddy Miller & Friends
44 pts.
Cayamo Sessions at Sea
New West Records
 
12
Wink Burcham
43 pts.
Cleveland Summer Nights
Continental Song City
 
13
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
42 pts.
C&O Canal
Red Beet Records
BR
14
Brent Cobb
41 pts.
Shine On A Rainy Day
Elektra Records
HH
 
Daniel Romano
41 pts.
Mosey
New West
CVL
 
Leonard Cohen
41 pts.
You Want it Darker
Sony Music
HO
17
Christian Kjellvander
40 pts.
A Village: Natural Light
Tapete Records
BM
18
Drive-By Truckers
39 pts.
American Band
ATO Records
AR,EZ
19
Birds of Chicago
38 pts.
Real Midnight
Five Head Entertainment
LM,SZ
20
John Prine
37 pts.
For Better, or Worse
Oh Boy Records
FS,MB
21
The Cactus Blossoms
36 pts.
You’re Dreaming
Red House Records
GS,HD
22
Richmond Fontaine
35 pts.
You Can’t Go Back
Décor Records
FCE
23
Gillian Welch
34 pts.
Boots No.1: The Official Revival Bootleg
Acony Records
LK,PR,TJ
24
Sarah Jarosz
33 pts.
Undercurrent
Sugar Hill
RM
25
Joe Purdy
32 pts.
Who Will Be Next?
Mudtown Crier Records
AL
 
The Devil Makes Three
32 pts.
Redemption & Ruin
New West

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