No two bands have the same backstory, and it’s always interesting to hear what brought artists to make music together. Steve McCormick and Heather Donavon met onstage in Venice, California, five years ago. That was shortly after Donavon’s father was diagnosed with Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (He recovered.) Through those difficult times, McCormick and Donavon formed a bond that you can hear when they sing together on their self-titled debut Love Me in the Dark.
With any band, you can tell pretty quickly what’s important to the sound, whether it’s guitar, tempo, volume, or anything else. You can tell immediately just how important the harmony vocals are on this album. “Old Soul” begins with just harmony vocals over an organ part that is so muted, it wouldn’t be out of place in a church service. While still muted, the sound grows richer with the addition of piano and guitar. The clincher in this song is at the end when McCormick and Donavon sing in breathy voices, “Old soul, my sweet old soul, may I have this dance with you?” If that doesn’t make you feel something, you might be made of stone.
Overall, the album has a fairly folky feel with the acoustic guitar. However, throughout the album you hear slide, guitar, resonator, and pedal steel that give the album some depth of sound and something of a dreamy quality. The pedal steel in “Baby Bird” is a good example. Actually between the airy vocals and the muted, spacy sounds, you realize that dream folk is a pretty accurate description of this band’s sound.
Another thing you find running throughout the album is the theme of love. Whether it’s riding through the night with a special someone (“Riding Wind”), or a love that inspires awe (“Surreal to Me”), the theme of love is inevitable. While love is not an unusual theme in music, it’s easy for songs about love to feel sappy. That’s not the case with Love Me in the Dark. These songs about love make you feel warm and comfortable.
“Imma Hold You to It” is a bit different than the rest of the songs on the album. This one includes horns that bring some soul to the song. Don’t be surprised if this sounds vaguely familiar as it’s hard not to think about Tedeschi Trucks Band when you hear this one.
The album closes with “Runs Deep”, a song on which Donavon does the vocals on her own. This has a gospel feel for a variety of reasons. First, the piano and the organ sound very much like the music you might hear playing as a preacher gives the sermon. Second, the backing vocals sound a lot like a church chorus. Finally, the melody itself has some similarities to “Amazing Grace.” It just might give you goosebumps, which is as good a way as any to close an album.
If you had to summarize this album in some succinct way, “quietly powerful” would be the perfect description. You don’t have to crank the volume to feel this. It is a whisper that reverberates deep inside you. Love Me in the Dark will be available everywhere on February 14. Order your copy here.
Steve McCormick (producer): vocals, guitars, mandolin, bass, piano, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, percussion
Heather Donavon: vocals, Omnichord
Jeff Young: vocals, piano, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer
Niki J. Crawford: vocals
Michael Jerome: drums, percussion
Kevin McCormick: bass
Ricky “RC” Cortes: bass
Jimmy Paxson: drums, percussion
Steve DiStanislao: drums
Eric Heywood: pedal steel guitar
Peter Fox: Hammond B3, sitar
Eric Lynn: piano, harmonium, Mellotron
Stewart Killen: percussion
Tim O’Gara: kubing
David Ralicke: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, horn arrangement
Max O’Leary: trumpet
Stanley Behrens: tenor saxophone
Kaitlin Wolfberg: violin, viola, string arrangements
Keb’ Mo’: resonator guitar