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Album review: Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer “Maritime” (FRUK)

August 19, 2014

Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer - MaritimeMaritime is the second album from Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer and it’s both a natural progression and quantum leap forward from their 2012 debut Seed Of A Pine. Their particular take on folk-rock Americana is still there but Maritime has something that just makes you drop whatever you’re doing and give the album your undivided attention from start to finish. The musical development is clear from the outset: where Seed Of A Pine focused on sounding like a band, Maritime is much more about Dave and Mandy as a duo, even though they are supported by various guests throughout.

The record opens with Helicopter, a midtempo bluesy tune that spotlights Dave and Mandy’s simpatico harmonies over a fingerstyle acoustic guitar; the rhythm section of Andrew Lauher (drums) and Christopher Merill (bass) pulsing like the heartbeat of your loved one in the small hours of the night. Mandy’s clear and open vocals lead Compass, a travelogue about the pain of separation and yearning for home, propelled by Andrew’s crisp snares and interspersed with a precise and hurting riff. It’s followed by the haunting Carillon, inspired by a visit to Amsterdam, the call and response between Dave and Mandy over Sarah Von Dassow’s deep, dark cello is a real highlight.

The slow waltz of Could Be Ghosts takes an unflinching look at the perpetual motion of life on the road, Mike Grigon’s lap steel hovering like a kestrel over the motorway as a wintry sun sets and another journey to another gig in another distant town begins. Morning Song finds us at the other end of that nocturnal road trip where “the coffee is a beautiful dream inside your veins” and these two songs together create a drivetime soundtrack that will undoubtedly resonate with anyone whose muse – be it music, love or life – has demanded that they travel a long way in a short time.

Pacing as restlessly as a caged animal, the bluesy How The Sea has a burning heart of suppressed anger, the major key modulation of its chorus suggesting hope for a positive resolution; Mandy’s white hot lead guitar and the sweet harmonies in the coda all combine to make it another of the record’s highlights. Dark Dark Woods taps into some ancient folk memories as it prowls the forest in search of the unifying power of love; the underlying tension of the lyric is heightened by the heady combination of Sarah’s distantly growling cello and Andrew’s steady rolling drums snapping at your heels.

Blown like a forgotten, tattered flag in a winter storm, Rain On The Rosemary is a love song like no other, both seeking and offering reassurance. The interplay between Dave’s voice, high in the mix, and Mandy’s responses is a real highlight. Silence contrasts town and country yet the sense of loneliness remains constant, almost palpable, throughout a song which has such a huge sound it should probably have its own postcode. A bittersweet love song, Tide Moon Ship Horn ebbs and flows but Mandy’s confident vocals and agile guitar keep it on track, aided by some well-placed harmonies from Dave and a sensitively interlocking rhythm section.

The evocatively-titled Conspiracy Of Ravens is well-served by its sparse arrangement; it’s an introspective, fatalistic reflection on the vagaries of love and life which allows Dave and Mandy’s almost telepathic musical bond to shine, before the insistently circular chord progression of the optimistic Victoria brings the album to a satisfying close.

By turns restless, angry, tender, world-weary and lonely, above all Maritime is grounded in the lives and times of its creators. It points to that quiet space in all our hearts, the one place where we can find our peace and it’s this quality, this intangible beauty, that raises Maritime far above the storm-battered, high water marks of our everyday existence and makes it such a captivating listen.


Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (19 August 2014)


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