Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer “Seed Of A Pine”
I’ve learnt many things whilst doing this reviewing gig over the past seven years or so, and one of the most important is to make sure that your frame of mind is in “neutral” when reviewing albums. Different results occur if your mood is either up or down, and those results are inevitably not good for the outcome of the review, or the artist. My mind is in neutral, and therefore able to formulate an informed subjective opinion, with little bias from other external factors; aside from comparisons to other artists’ works of course.
This is an excellent album that weaves both lead voices beautifully with each other, whilst also providing ample opportunity for the musicianship of the title artists and the other musicians to shine though, who include JT Nero, Allison Russell and Peter Mulvey.
Producer Zach Goheen isn’t afraid of interspersing between instruments and mixing them to the fore perfectly so they either enhance the vocal performances, or relinquish them into the background to allow the voices to shine. From the opener ‘So Comes The Day’ to closer ‘Western Sky’ there isn’t a duff track on the album, though ‘Once Was’ isn’t fully to my personal taste, with its jazz brushes and inflections but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song.
Full of references to man and nature, this duo seem to thrive on the beautiful things around us all and have an ability to make the listener stop and maybe appreciate the wonders of this world for a little longer than we would normally. The use of violin cello and stand up bass adds to the general sparseness of the arrangements and really stand out on ‘Grow’, ‘Forget the Diamonds’ and the title track. ‘Serotiny (May Our Music)’ and ‘Comin’ Down’ provide echoes of Jeffrey Foucault, who McGraw and Fer have supported on tour, whereas the aforementioned ‘Forget The Diamonds’ brings to mind Josh Harty, with its funky acoustic guitar. Splitting the writing duties across 11 tracks, both McGraw and Fer (pronounced “Fair”) have demonstrated their ability to capture and describe those things we all know and experience every day, but few of us can actually articulate in words, let alone a song.
But, they save the best to last. ‘Western Sky’ is like every song you’ve ever loved, but sounds like none of them (except maybe Springsteen's "I'm On Fire"). I can’t describe it, as I wouldn’t do it justice – just take my word for it, it’s truly excellent in its sublime simplicity, and you’d be an idiot not to track it down. Easier still, just buy the album. This is McGraw’s and Fer’s first release as a duo and one they can be rightly proud of as its an extremely mature debut. Stand up and take a bow guys – it’s rightly deserved. And plant some more seeds soon.