Flyinshoes Review

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

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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May 2016

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