In the endlessly fascinating and baffling world of music and art, concepts like “originality” and “hipness” present an ever moving target. But sometimes it’s more than enough if a band simply makes a record of beautiful songs played and recorded beautifully.
Such is the case with Grain by Grain by Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards, two road warrior musicians who’ve been plying their trade to appreciative audiences in the northeast US for the last six years. Their sound is based on their respective voices, which blend beautifully and effortlessly. Mark’s voice has the smooth, plaintive quality that is often associated with classic Americana, whereas Raianne’s earthy voice at times brings to mind the great country icon Emmylou Harris. Mark plays the six-string and Raianne adds beautiful clarinet playing (as well as other instruments) which immediately makes their sound stand out in the crowded field of Americana.
The album is a treat for lovers of acoustic sounds, covering a broad instrumental palette that includes mandolin, pedal steel, harmonica and penny whistle. What further sets this record apart is the carefully crafted sonic textures: a mournful clarinet plays long, wistful notes over a droning harmonica, a penny whistle glides over the sliding notes of a pedal steel. Guitar and mandolin weave delicate interlocking fingerpicking patterns. The effect is both bucolic and timeless, and this band must be a joy to experience live.
Grain by Grain can be called a melancholy record. Themes covered include loss, regret, redemption and finally determination. Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards have deep ties to the central Massachusetts region they grew up in, with its pastoral landscapes, rolling fields and endless winters, and the music certainly seems to reflect their surroundings, full of bittersweet, aching beauty.
Opener and title track is a winner, a melancholy ballad made more so by Richard’s majestic clarinet lines.
Temper is a regretful look back at a lover’s argument. That Old Machine sounds like an old time country song about the life of the working man. It describes the loss of a manufacturing job as symbolized by an old stitching machine, something the artists are no doubt very familiar with as they both grew up in the central Massachusetts mill and factory towns.
Worn Down is a plaintive ballad about being, well, worn down, with some exquisite vocal harmonizing and again, that beautiful clarinet evoking images of the New England golden fields mentioned in the lyrics (for the jazz aficionados, dig that hip 6th played by the clarinet over the final minor chord!)
Diggin’ me a Hole is a favorite, carried by a bluesy acoustic guitar and mandolin reminiscent of an old work song. The lyrics are wryly humorous: “Did God give me hands to build and fight? Or did god give me an ass to sit?”
Closer Across the Morning may be the prettiest of the bunch, harmonized entirely, over minimal instrumentation of guitar, bowed bass and clarinet.
Grain by Grain is a sweet, heartwarming record, made with love and passion, that should introduce Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards to the wider audience they clearly deserve.
Grain by Grain is out now and available via Bandcamp here.
More here: markmandeville.com