Artist: Dave McGraw
Album: Where the Sea Settles Down
Label: Pool or Pond Records
Genre: Acoustic Folk/Rock
Technical Grade: 8/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Commercial Value: 7/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Long Road Home, Hitchhiker's Dreams, Return
I listen to a lot of acoustic music. So when an acoustic disc comes my way that is different from most others, I get excited. Dave McGraw’s Where the Sea Settles Down is such an album.
First of all, Where the Sea has a warmth and richness achieved through the way it was recorded – friends gathered in each others’ homes. It has a bittersweet, exotic, gypsy feel to it – the music of soul-searching.
“CrowWingRiver” gets things rolling at breakneck pace, with McGraw’s percussive rhythm guitar adding extra intensity. “Still I” is soulful in a ‘70s folk sort of way. McGraw’s voice is sweet, yet weathered and knowing, and the light hand percussion (played by McGraw) is deft and organic.
Those two fine tracks lead into the brilliant “Long Road Home.” The interplay between McGraw’s propulsive guitar and Mike Grigoni’s dobro is balanced exquisitely in the mix. “Home” has so many cool nuances to it, and I discover a new one with each listen – right now it’s the hopeful line “We’ve come a long, long way/and I think we’re gonna make it home” sung by McGraw and Lisa Harmon at the end of the song.
Later, Lisa lends her vocal charms to the wistful (and prettily strummed) “Burn,” which also contains the line that gives the album its name and some of McGraw’s most evocative and visual lyrics.
“Zion” and “Hitchhiker’s Dreams” both seem to have anti-materialism themes – “Zion” is percolating and minor-key; “Hitchhiker” is folky and bluegrassy, with beautiful dobro work by Grigoni. Sandwiched in between the two is “Zion II,” an instrumental that is in the jazzy “Zion” vein but percussive and reggae-like – my high school creative writing students are doing spoken word, and I could hear them doing it to “Zion II.”
“Return” is unique – bright and sing-songy in the verses, almost in a different key in the chorus, but groovy in a shimmying String Cheese Incident (back in the old days, at least) way. And “Embrace” is a heartfelt, touching solo tribute to important people in McGraw’s life – a simple, fitting conclusion to the album.
(There is a piano version of “Zion” at the very end – it sounds almost as if you’re listening from an adjacent room, and it’s easier to hear the lyrical ode to individualism.)
Done almost entirely on wooded instruments, Where the Sea Settles Down is a pure acoustic delight, like listening to a downhome bunch of folks jamming on a wrap-around porch on a crisp evening.