Maritime – Album by Dave and Mandy*
Maritime opens with an elegant, balanced, harmony carried by both confident singers. This first track is jazzy and full of movement, even while being simple and clean. Dave and Mandy are actually Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer – no flashy band name for these two! Their website states that they have “shared the stage” with many acts, including Iron & Wine and Mandolin Orange – and I must say these are perfect pairings. Mandy’s voice reminds me a little of Mindy Smith, but deeper – and I’m still not sure how to describe Dave’s vocal style. Gentle like Jack Johnson maybe, but more singerly and sustained somehow?
Dave and Mandy are in the same style vein and able to hold their own alongside these comparable, well-known bands. This album was recorded on an island, so you’d expect it to have a sharp beach-grass, biting wind, salty air, roaring wave type of feeling; but honestly I think the overall style and feeling takes you to any natural out-of-door place that allows you enjoy music – and your own memories – in a calm and uninterrupted peace.
The second track on the album (“Compass”) is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece, supporting Mandy’s solo voice in a darker minor key that gets both rollicking and wistful. It is just upbeat enough to have you singing along to the flavorful lyrics – “all these cigarettes and smiles, smell the salt that’s in the air”. Track #3 is “Carillion”, with music that really doesn’t interfere too much with Dave’s lead vocals – you can really hear each sustained vibrato and therefore feel connected in some way to the singer, as he proposes “I would like to play for you, a song that is my own.”
Track #4 brings in a little energy, with crashing drums and a train-track rhythm that breaks through at just the right moments. But the next track didn’t impress me as anything novel – even as I enjoyed the brighter feeling and warmer texture of this more upbeat piece aptly titled “Morning Song”, I realized that this song actually plays upon the familiar. Dave’s voice shares words that pop out individually to tap into your own associations, words like cattails, fence posts, coffee, mason jars. Even though it is not earth-shatteringly innovative, I have to say “Morning Song” is tied with “Compass” for my favorite track!
Dave’s turn to get jazzy is on #6, a piece called “How the Sea”. This song really highlights the electric guitar – apparently Mandy played lead guitar for several other bands and her musicianship is well demonstrated here. The storytelling style on #7 reminds me a little bit of Ani DiFranco – a coffeehouse style song brimming with angst. Then “Rain on the Rosemary” actually has a, well, rainy feeling that calls to mind the Pacific Northwestern island setting where this record was made. I just love the name, and again the electric guitar solos sprinkling in and out are just perfect mood-setters.
It might seem hard to have much patience for a song called “Silence”, but Dave and Mandy do a pretty fair job of it. Slow, bare, and about someone who “can’t stand the silence”, Mandy’s voice is mostly alone on this piece before it ramps up; and she carries a rich strength that compares to one of my favorite singers, Susan Tedeschi. The melody here leads you to unexpected places which is admirable – but I have to say this piece was probably my least favorite, as it is a more serious than energetic song.
“Tide Moon Ship Horn” (Track #10) is the song that uses words most explicitly to bring out the maritime theme. In addition to the title that repeats throughout the chorus, you’ll hear other pepperings of salty words including gales, gray, anchor, and sail… that all work to bring you the place the artists want you to see.
The album ends very simply, with a sweet song crooning “I’ve got all the time in the world for Victoria”. If you love Iron and Wine, Norah Jones, and if you have ever heard of an Ohio group called Over the Rhine… then you will love Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer. They are certainly talented and intentional – and they have a couple of tour dates coming up in August. I hope that some of these are outside shows – because this is the kind of music best enjoyed from a blanket in the grass, on a summer night with a bottle of wine. Dreamy, mellow, and memory-making.
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