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Album Review

DAVE McGRAW & MANDY FER
Seed Of a Pine

Male and female. Or Female and male. I don't know why, but it is a match made in heaven when it comes to music. The textures of the voice, the harmonies, the emotions. A good singer is a good singer, true, and good singers are good singers, but there is a magic to the combination of male and female. Or female and male. There is with Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer, at least. Because when McGraw sings lead and Fer sings harmony, it is pure and fresh, and when Fer sings lead and McGraw sings harmony, it is amazing.

McGraw reminds me a bit of David Maloney, who with singing partner Ginny Reilly practically owned Seattle back in the early eighties. There is a certain texture to Maloney's voice not unlike that of McGraw that he used to offset Reilly's gentle high-pitched warble. Not unlike Reilly with Maloney, Fer gives McGraw a lot to wrap his voice around--- at times she sounds a bit like Carole King with her simple and unadorned style--- at others she reminds me a bit of Pieta Brown or Canada's Amy Campbell, straightforward with slight inflections for effect. And when she harmonizes, she raises McGraw's already excellent voice another level.

You want songs? This album is packed with ear-catchers. Serotiny (May Our Music) is an acoustic rocker with a hook and a half. Waking the Dreamer is a longer and more involved work, broken into segments beautifully and to great effect. The lighter segments are finger-picking delights, simple guitar backdrops and impressive lead-ins to the rocking segments, the drums and bass laying solid bedrock not unlike what Richard Thompson or Fairport Convention have done here and there. The Seed of a Pine is as country as it gets on the album, but this is the softer side of country, McGraw wringing emotions through his phrasing and Fer adding her voice simply and perfectly. The instrumental bridge, as simple as it is, breaks the song in just the right place and here comes the cello, giving it a lonesome feel which makes the song just that much better. Grow has more of a folk feel than most here and, again, the dueling voices reign.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Golden Grey, just for the pure beauty of it. There is a cascading harmony to the verse which sends chills down my spine, but what really grabs me is Fer's upfront and, again, unadorned voice. It takes a special voice to take a song into the obvious. I hear songs this good quite a bit, but there is usually something not quite right about them--- the production isn't quite there or maybe overdone, or there is a band where there shouldn't be, or the voice isn't quite right. Not so, here. No vocal pyrotechnics, no production values out of place. It is a simply beautiful song presented as it is. Voices and acoustic guitars. There are few songs which could wring blood from a turnip. Listen closely. This is one.

I am working with files here, so I don't have any credits or attributes at hand, but I have to give credit to whoever played electric guitar. The licks are smooth, clean and just right for the few songs which use it. And I'm assuming that either Fer or McGraw or a combination of both are responsible for the songs. These are strong songs--- solid songs. And they have made for a solid album.

I haven't heard any of the solo work from either McGraw or Fer (actual last name, Ferrarini), but I have to say that at this point I am afraid to. The combination of voices on Seed of a Pine has struck home and deep. I love this album. It will take me awhile to get beyond it. A long while.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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