Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards are well known on the East coast of the US and Canada, and their latest CD, Live In Manitoba, features a classy selection of live performances from their thirteen date house concert tour in Canada back in 2017.
The songs feature intelligent lyrics set against attractive and uncomplicated folk-y melodies in the best tradition of Americana, accompanied by unpretentiously accomplished acoustic guitar and a variety of instruments including harmonica, ukulele, clarinet, whistle and bass. I’m not generally fond of the ukulele unless it’s played extremely well: here, though, it generally works very well, with arpeggio and single-string work that sometimes gives it a tone reminiscent of mandolin. In general, the instrumental work is effective without being flashy. However, it’s the vocal work that lingers in the ears here: if ever two voices were meant to harmonize, it’s these two.
All but two of the songs here are by Mark and Raianne. As you might expect, there are plenty of songs here from the studio albums Hard Times & Woes (2014) and Grain By Grain (2016). Five of the tracks (those preceded by “Prelude: ” in the title) are introductions to the following song, and range from the short and factual introduction to ‘Hand I Hold’ to the lengthier banter of ‘Prelude: Why Are They Talking Again’ and an explanation of their Massachusetts Walking Tour, combining free concerts with raising awareness of the state’s trails and greenways.
Here’s the track listing.
- ‘Prelude: “Why are they talking again?”’
- ‘Hang On To The Day’ features a nice balance of uke arpeggios and fingerstyle guitar.
- ‘Loose Stones In The Gravel’ reminds me a little of ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’ melodically, but great words, and with characteristically strong harmonies.
- ‘That’s The Way It Goes’ has a nice pace-y feel bolstered by bass guitar.
- Raianne takes lead vocals on ‘Don’t Ever Stop Believing’: some interesting chord changes here.
- ‘Prelude: “Love Song”’
- ‘Hand I Hold’ is introduced by Mark as ‘a love song I wrote for Raianne’. And very pretty it is too.
- ‘Grain By Grain’ alternates simple-but-effective clarinet with some adventurous harmony from Raianne: I rather like the contrast of the clarinet and Neil Young-ish harmonica on the break, too.
- ‘That Old Machine’
- ‘Walls’ is a song by Tom Petty, released as a single with The Heartbreakers in 1996. For me, the harmonies here lift this version well above the original.
- ‘Prelude: “It’s the only exercise we get all year”’
- ‘One More Mile’ is inspired by the Massachusetts Walking Tour, as explained in the preceding “prelude”.
- ‘Prelude: “It didn’t even sound like a furnace”’ You need to listen to the first “prelude” to get the reference here.
- ‘It Won’t Be Written On My Grave’ is a catchy, singalong-y song, well worth a listen, even though the whistle and guitar are slightly out of tune with each other.
- ‘If Someone Will Come With Me I’ll Go’ is probably my favourite song on the CD at the moment.
- ‘As Long As It Takes’ – like ‘Hand I Hold’, this is a previously unrecorded song.
- ‘Prelude: “The decisions that we make do affect other people”’ is a long introduction citing the issues address in the next track.
- ‘Last Tree Standing’ is a powerful if pessimistic song – “If you were the last tree standing, there’d be someone to cut you down…” – counterpointed by the clarinet’s very apposite quoting of ‘John Brown’s Body’.
- ‘Unknown Legend’ is a song by Neil Young, and this treatment does it full justice, and makes a satisfying end to the CD.
Some excellent songs, exceptionally well sung. Recommended.
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Artist’s website: markandraianne.com/
‘Last Tree Standing’ – live: