DAVE McGRAW & MANDY FER - Seed of a Pine (Review)

From the outset, one matter is very clear in Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer's Seed of a Pine: the two possess a highly interesting but manneredly restrained progressive sense of things when it comes to folk musics. We've seen that in John Martyn, The Strawbs, Bruce Cockburn, and others, but this duo's grasp of refined possibilities marries classical strains and traditional modes with modern authenticities while capturing a naked honesty almost impossible to pin down in any categorical sense. The first cut, "So Comes the Day", centers in McGraw's singing, while the second, "Golden Grey", showcases Fer (pronounced 'Fair'), but both nail down a heartfelt timelessness key to what drives the quiet vitality underlying the beautiful compositions in Seed.

Fer's electric guitar reminds one of Dave Lambert, both his solo and Strawbs work, and her voice is a clear sweet instrument while McGraw is slightly rougher around the edges, just a tad gruffer, a trifle more working class where Fer can be almost chamberish, classical, yet he's highly sonorous and of an ilk with Cockburn, David Wilcox, and others. The inclusion of strings in Seed, courtesy of Nora Barton and Jared Rabin, was especially wise, particularly in "Forget the Diamonds", where they're highly effective, achingly so, counterpointing Fer's dancingly be-bopish lines, complementing McGraw's dulcet but thoughtful chords.

McGraw and Fer have appeared on stage with a number of good acts but most notably the arresting Willy Porter, a gent still criminally under-regarded.  The reason for the kinship is easy to understand: a shared vision of what has yet to have been wrought in a variant style always far more open than most suspect…just ask Tim Buckley. "If You Will", for instance, is deceptive, in its spare framework hiding sophisticated but subtle compositional techniques by fusing a number of modes in an underpopulated but deeply affecting purgatorial environment just shy of heaven. Where most will write music to carry the vocals, McGraw and Fer set their voices and words down to wed the instruments, neither one nor the other edging anything out. They do a lot more than that, but I'll let you, dear reader, discover the rest, so don't put the disc on and then run the vacuum cleaner or jump on the telephone. Sit down and listen. It's the at-home sonic version of going to a museum.

One last thing: the striking watercolor art featured on the cover of the disc was done by the 8-year old Zia Kypta-Keith, inspired by the "Seed of a Pine" cut, and, good lord!, if that's what Zia can do so young, we're looking at a child prodigy. She'll hanging her work in galleries by the time she's 12. Mark my words.

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