Maybe it’s the moment, maybe I just needed something different to listen to, or maybe it was something all together different but the debut from New York’s The Nine Seas just seemed to hit me right in the feels. The duo has been playing together for a number of years in different projects (The Big Bright, Ollabelle) but Dream of Me is the first effort featuring just the talents of Fiona McBain and Liz Tormes. Produced by Jim White, it is as stunning a debut album as you could hope to hear. The promo materials push the old time White Gospel narrative and while that is certainly evident upon first listen, I think they deliver so much more that what narrowly defines that style of music.
The first thing that grabs you is the pure and simple beauty of the duo’s blended voices. Opening track “Am I Still Your Demon” with the trumpet playing solemnly in the back ground like TAPS (in an oddly wonderful way) for a past relationship showcases the effortless merging of McBain and Tormes vocal talents. The tale of a love long since gone, it serves as a haunting reminder of what we all have either willfully left behind or had taken from us at one point. The reimagining of “I Never Will Marry” with its sugar plum fairies dancing in the background instrumentation, simple and sparse banjo plucking allows the vocals to shine through and take center stage. Devoid of all things twang it stands as a testament to the power of the lyrics and how simple and interesting production can make a song more impactful.
“Trials Troubles, and Tribulations” with the opening instrumentation and vocals has that immediate “it” quality to it. The banjo in the back floats into the song, like smoke disappearing at dusk, and pushes the song along with it. It may be my favorite song on the album and I found myself listening and relistening to it. Interestingly enough they included a second version of the song featuring just guitar and vocals as a homage to how they first started singing it. This version is damn near perfect. I close my eyes and all I can see is sun streaming through the stained glass at The Ryman, catching the sacred dust that floats about the hall, carrying with it the ghosts who have been there before, while their voices wrap you up warmly, all the way to cheap underneath the balcony. Words do not do it justice, it is a masterclass.
“Go to Sleep” simply put, is beautiful. The lilting vocals with an understated pop backbeat showcase the charm and wonder a song can provide a moment. Talking any more about it would ruin the joy of discovering what I think is easily one of the top two or three songs on the album. “Midnight Blues” has a hillbilly film noir quality about it with the banjo and 50’s twang guitar and fits in nicely with overall aural landscape of the collection. Another cover, the hauntingly gorgeous “Down in the Willow Garden” is a tour de force vocal performance and certainly does the source material proud.
Like all good things this too must end and “Sea of Heartbreak” closes the collection in a fun way. Claps, stops and a variety of percussive effects fill the background while 50’s girl group harmonies dominate. While different from most of the tracks on Dream of Me it sounds like they are genuinely having a good time and it makes for a nice close to the record. The songs, originals coupled with a few well thought out covers, set a new standard. The production is crisp and on point, inventive and never boring, and really conveys a sense of trust the duo must have had in Jim White. These songs would have stood strong on their own if they had been recorded with just vocals and guitars but the embellishments at just the right time help them transcend the genre. Every note has its place, every moment shines, every song has a naturalness about it. It is a reflection on the abilities of the McBain and Tromes to create something so beautiful and striking, yet complex and enticing with Dream of Me. They have delivered one of 2020’s must listen moments at a time when we could probably all use something to smile about. https://thenineseas.com/home