Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer. Seed of a Pine

Seed of a Pine is a fine collaborative effort from Arizona musicians Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer (previously known as Mandy Ferranini under which she’s released some solo stuff). Both names are new to us however a glance at some of the musicians who assisted on this recording was certainly inviting. J.T. Nero and Allison Russell who together recorded one of our favourite albums of last year, Mountains/Forests are present as is the relatively unknown but ever excellent Peter Mulvey. Together they have crafted an album that positively brims with excellent songs, fine playing and exquisite vocals. Although they write separately (with Fer contributing five songs to McGraw’s six) the pair are perfectly matched in terms of style and the vocal harmonies, shared throughout by combinations of the pair along with Nero, Russell and Mulvey provide a cohesive mellow sound.
The opening song So Comes The Day stumbles somewhat despite a promising opening and an intriguing similarity to Calexico’s dusty ballads. It’s a fine song but its meandering signatures makes for an odd opening. Thereafter however it’s plain sailing as the flowing chords of Golden Grey introduce us to the simple joy of a song well played and well sung with rippling guitar and a great vocal from Fer. The galloping Serotiny which follows adds some muscle in the shape of Fer’s rumbling guitar with the title (a term relating to the release of seeds in some plants such as pine cones in response to a trigger) pointing to one of the primary themes on display here which is the relationship of man to nature. The songs are full of references to clouds, wind, mountains and sky. Both writers have an abundance of nature in their lyrics, light, dark, dusk and night crop up time and time again with a woody cello adding a cold yet comforting feel to many of them. Grow and Forget The Diamonds are perhaps the best examples of this. Grow is a mysterious tale of star crossed lovers who lie in the grass counting stars in the summer wind that comes across as if Thomas Hardy were to write a contemporary love song. Fer’s voice burrs beautifully on this with McGraw supporting manfully. The spare arrangement with a basic guitar melody and plaintive violin is superb. Forget The Diamonds is a snappier arrangement with Christopher Merrill’s upright bass sturdy as an oak and the violin cello and piano recalling a Nick Drake moment. The lyrics here are almost metaphysical in their opaqueness and the vocals by Fer and Nero are simply superb. The title song, written by McGraw is a more traditional snapshot of a life lived and remembered, the music is sparse to begin with but swells as it progresses with some fine guitar and bass playing that recalls the jazzy folk of Pentangle. Throughout the album the playing is exemplary, capturing moods,indeed impressionistic. The voices melt and merge with a sublime degree of resignation although there is always a sense that there is a rebirth just around the corner.

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